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The Best Cultural Sights to Visit in Colombia

Visit Colombia for an array of cultural sights, unique nature trails and historic towns for you to explore

Colombia is a diverse country known for its breathtaking natural destinations, coffee plantations, historic architecture and thriving contemporary culture – and it’s also home to seven stunning Unesco World Heritage sites. We look at the best places to visit for an insight into Colombian culture and history.

Want to explore the Caribbean coast of Colombia? Join our eight-day epic small-group adventure . Or you may prefer a trip round the cities of the Andes – TRIPS by Culture Trip has that covered too, on an eight-day trip from Bogotà to Medellín .

Cartagena is a fortified coastal city that exudes its rich history through its centuries-old architecture. Founded in 1533, the city held a vital seaport for the Spanish conquerors, making it a key location to hold treasures acquired from the native population. This strategic value also made the city a prime target for pirates and other attackers, thus Cartagena was designed to be one of the most sophisticated fortifications of the time.

Unesco-listed in 1984, the key sights to see here include the old town within the walls and the many monuments that stand in and around the city.

An aerial view of the Old Town

Los Katíos National Park

Located in Northwest Colombia and stretching over 72,000ha (177,915ac) Los Katíos is a Unesco-protected national park that is home to an abundance of rare and endangered animals, as well as a diverse wilderness that stretches from rainforests to mountains. The park also holds the world’s fastest river – the Atrato River – reportedly capable of pouring 4,900 m3 of water into the Caribbean Sea every second.

The national park has been listed as endangered since 2009 due to the damaging effects of deforestation as well as illegal fishing and hunting. Due to this, the park is not open for eco-tourism activities.

Historic Centre of Santa Cruz de Mompox

Santa Cruz de Mompox is an enchanting city that takes travelers back in time to the era of the Spanish Conquest. Founded a decade after Cartagena, Mompox became a crucial city in the Spanish colonization effort because of its position on the Magdalena River.

The time-defying qualities of the city come from the impressive preservation of architecture – dating back to the 16th century – and the fact that many of these buildings are still in use for their original purpose. Filled with multiple squares and colonial structures, the church of Santa Barbara stands out as one of the highlights of this entrancing city.

The Santa Barbara church in Santa Cruz de Mompox

National Archaeological Park of Tierradentro

Delving back further into Colombia’s rich history, the National Archaeological Park of Tierradentro offers a window into the life and culture of the inhabitants before Spanish colonization. Located in the Cauca department of Colombia, the park hides many preserved hypogea (underground chambers), filled with engravings and objects that reveal social and cultural aspects of life from the sixth to the ninth centuries. These excavated finds are unique in their size and architectural sophistication – holding large interiors, curved walls and even staircases.

San Agustín Archaeological Park

San Augustin Archaeological Park is located in Huila and holds hundreds of carved stone statues that date back thousands of years. These statues are incredible examples of the creativity and artistry of the inhabitants who left the area in the 8th century.

Inscribed as a world heritage site in 1995, the sculptures reveal the religious, artistic and technological aspects of this lost civilization. The three main areas in the park are Las Mesitas, Fuente de Lavapatas, and Bosque de Las Estatuas.

Ancient statues in the San Agustin Archeological Park

Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary

The largest no-fishing zone in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary is a Unesco-listed area that is home to a number of endangered marine species. The sanctuary includes Malpelo Island and its surrounding waters, renowned as one of the best diving spots in the world. Home to rare and endangered species, Malpelo is recognized as a vital component of the biodiversity in the area.

The Coffee Triangle of Colombia

Protected as a world heritage site, the Coffee Triangle is a vast area around the Cordillera de Los Andes in the West of Colombia that is significant in its maintenance of tradition and its influence on the global coffee industry.

Colombian coffee is renowned all around the world for its high quality and flavor and the protection of this plantation-filled landscape is vital for its sustainability. The Coffee Triangle holds sweeping coffee plantations, historic architecture and beautiful mountainous views – providing awe-inspiring views, even for non-coffee drinkers.

Sunset from the Mirador del Quindio, in Colombia’s Coffee Triangle

Tayrona National Park and the Lost City

Close to the city of Santa Marta, Tayrona National Park sits on the coast of Colombia and is a haven of natural beauty. Here visitors will witness the meeting of picturesque beaches with lush rainforests, the combination of which creates a unique biosphere. Many tours of the park will also visit the ancient ruins of Ciudad Perdida.

Translated as the Lost City in Spanish, Ciudad Perdida is thought to have originated around 800CE – more than 500 years before Machu Picchu . Surrounded by forests, these age-old ruins hold an aura of mystery and beauty – and tell of a time long lost.

Gorgona Island

Gorgona Island lies about 50km (31mi) off the west coast of Colombia and has a rich history, with its unique location and geography being used for multiple reasons throughout the years. The earliest evidence found of human inhabitants dates back to 1300AD.

Swapping ownership between the indigenous Kuna people, Spanish rulers, pirates, Colombians and even the English, it also served as a prison from 1954 to 1984. Now a national park, it holds an abundance of wildlife and its surrounding waters are renowned as great scuba diving spots.

A white-headed capuchin monkey on Gorgona Island

The capital of Colombia, one of the largest cities in South America, is full of museums, galleries and monuments that highlight the country’s past, present and future. A thriving cultural hub, it hosts festivals and events throughout the year, making it a great destination no matter what your interest.

A panoramic view of downtown Bogotà

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20 Best Places to Visit in Colombia, According to Locals and Experts

These are 20 of the best places to visit in Colombia, from colorful villages to stunning beaches.

cultural places to visit in colombia

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A hypnotizing mix of charming coastal cities, world-class cuisine, and lush landscapes hiding immense biodiversity have made the bicoastal country of Colombia one of the most sought-after destinations in the Americas. Spending a long weekend in Cartagena or a few days in Bogotá isn't enough; even after spending months living in Medellín, I felt I barely scratched the surface of all Colombia offers.

With the help of Medellín-based Travel + Leisure A-List advisor Boris Seckovic and locals who work at some of the country's most incredible accommodations, like Bio Habitat Hotel and Casa Pestagua, we've assembled a list of the best places to visit in Colombia. Read on to find the country's most scenic trekking trails, untouched white-sand beaches, and where to get the best cup of Colombian coffee.

Meet the Expert

Boris Seckovic is a T+L A-list advisor and Colombia specialist living in Medellín.

Carolina Bernal is the general manager at Casa San Agustin and Casa Pestagua, luxury hotels located in Cartagena. 

Related: 25 Best Places to Visit in South America

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Few destinations have done a better job rebranding themselves than Medellín, a vibrant metropolis whose rapid transformation has made it one of South America's most sought-after cities for travelers and digital nomads alike. Laureles was recently named the coolest neighborhood in the world , though travelers might be more familiar with El Poblado as home to some of Colombia's trendiest cafes, restaurants, and bars. Medellín's impressive public transportation network includes several cable cars, making the journey to green spaces like Arvi Park one of the best ways to enjoy breathtaking views of a city that crawls dramatically up the mountainsides of the Aburrá Valley.

Valle de Cocora

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Don't be surprised if the Valle de Cocora (Cocora Valley) in the heart of Colombia's coffee country looks familiar. This magical area served as the real-life inspiration for Disney's “Encanto,” so you'll be sure to hear the soundtrack's most famous song as you pass through the nearby village of Salento. Despite its new claim to fame, the Valle de Cocora has long been famous for its impressive forest of wax palm trees, which tower high above the valley, growing up to 200 feet tall.

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One of the best cities in South America , Colombia's bustling capital city of Bogotá is much more than just a stopover after an international flight. As soon as you arrive, take a funicular or cable car up the Cerro de Monserrate to take in the city views and get your bearings before exploring the historic neighborhood of La Candelaria. Visiting the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) is a must, as is experiencing the city's increasingly impressive culinary scene at spots like the award-winning El Chato, one of the world's best restaurants .

Stay at the luxurious W Bogotá , named by T+L readers among the best hotels in South America last year, or stop by for their beloved night brunch. The hotel's bold design is a modern interpretation of the legend of El Dorado.

Amazon Rainforest

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"Colombia's slice of the Amazon rainforest isn't as well-known as the Amazon in neighboring countries, but it's almost better that way," says Seckovic, who heads Amakuna , the leading specialist for luxury travel in Colombia. "You'll see far fewer people here and have a much better chance of encountering wildlife because of it." Explore the jungle by starting in the regional capital of Leticia, hidden among forest canopy and accessible only by airplane. From there, head to one of the region's ecolodges for biologist-led excursions into the wilderness, where colorful butterflies dart above waters where pink Amazonian river dolphins play.

Santa Cruz de Mompox

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Set along the Magdalena River that winds towards Colombia's Caribbean Coast, the colonial village of Santa Cruz de Mompox "feels like what Cartagena used to be," says Seckovic. An important stop along the river used by the Spanish to extract gold, the UNESCO-protected town still retains all its historic beauty, and an artisan filigree jewelry industry points to its golden past. First-of-their-kind cruises along the Magdalena River with AmaWaterways will kick off in 2024, offering a new way to experience the region on routes that twist through the countryside between Cartagena and Barranquilla.

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Cartagena is officially Colombia's worst-kept secret. Whether by cruise ship or via newly added flight routes from major U.S. cities, travelers now flock to Colombia's buzziest and most colorful hotspot year-round. A walk along age-old Spanish colonial walls at sunset with glimpses of the glimmering high-rises of Bocagrande in the distance is all you'll need to see why. 

Carolina Bernal, general manager at Casa San Agustin and Casa Pestagua , recommends staying in a restored mansion for a look into the city’s past. Longtime Cartagena favorite Casa San Agustin is a gem; its sister property, Casa Pestagua, is a meticulously restored and luxurious 17th-century mansion colloquially known as the most beautiful home in Cartagena.

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Until recently, Isla Barú was mostly a destination for day trippers looking for the best beaches near Cartagena. The recent addition of the Sofitel Barú Casablanca Beach Resort changes all that, making this "island" just 45 minutes from the city an increasingly popular destination all its own. Travelers can also enjoy a beach day or book an overnight at one of the six new cabana-style bungalows at Acasi Private Beach, a luxe extension of Casa San Agustin and Casa Pestagua on the sand.

Eje Cafetero

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Colombia's idyllic coffee-growing region is known as the Eje Cafetero , the "Coffee Axis." This verdant landscape is peppered with grand haciendas and tiny, shaded cafetales where families have long worked the land, and even passersby enjoy the aroma of the world's best coffee. Explore the countryside in a colorful, open-air Jeep Willy, visiting historic villages like Salento, Jardin, and Filandia along the way.

One of the region's coolest places to stay is Bio Habitat Hotel , where luxurious free-standing accommodations are enveloped in rainforest flora and fauna and offer views across the Andes. This eco-conscious, regenerative hotel perched amidst the forest canopy feels a world away, though it's just minutes from the city of Armenia and some of the country's finest artisan coffee farms.

Ciudad Perdida

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Tucked within the lush, tropical Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, Colombia's Ciudad Perdida ( or “Lost City”) is among the great ancient ruins in South America. There's no easy way to reach Ciudad Perdida; visiting this hidden settlement demands a four-day mountain trek with numerous river crossings. The payoff is well worth it: Just a few dozen intrepid travelers reach this expansive site with its terraced hillsides and circular plazas every day, meaning you'll get to enjoy it almost uninterrupted.

Only a handful of Santa Marta-based tour operators are certified to guide visitors to the site, still cared for by the descendants of the Tairona people who built the settlement centuries ago.

Guatapé and El Peñol

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It's impossible to miss El Peñol, a massive monolith towering many stories over the countryside of Antioquia as if dropped from the heavens by a giant. If the climb to the top doesn't take your breath away, the 360-degree views from the top certainly will. Just minutes down the road, the small town of Guatapé has its own flavor of fantasy, with a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns covering the facades of its historic buildings. These twin destinations are an easy day-trip distance from Medellín, but an overnight stay at some of the country's coolest glamping spots is even better.

Caño Cristales

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Known as Colombia's "river of five colors," Caño Cristales is home to unique aquatic plants that give it a liquid rainbow effect you must see to believe. When the colorful effect is at peak vibrancy between July and November, the river seems to run green, magenta, purple, maroon, and canary yellow simultaneously. The river is located in the relatively isolated Serranía de la Macarena National Park, though locals attest it's well worth the trip to see one of the world's strangest natural wonders.

Related: Visiting Caño Cristales, Colombia's Liquid Rainbow

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The village of Barichara is arguably Colombia's prettiest. Barichara is a bit further from the country's major cities than other historic gems like Villa de Leyva, so "it's stunningly beautiful, but still not too touristy," says Seckovic. The town made T+L's list of the best hidden gem destinations to visit last year and is conveniently located just a stone's throw from San Gil, the undisputed capital of adventure travel in Colombia.

Tayrona National Park

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In Tayrona National Park, Colombia's best beaches line untouched jungles with enough endemic flora and fauna to make any eco-conscious traveler swoon. Take a skippered sailing excursion to the park directly from Santa Marta, with stops at spots like Bahia Concha and Cabo San Juan for swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing. More adventurous travelers can trek through the park and camp in hammocks perched directly over white sands.

Rosario Islands

“The Rosario Islands, or Islas del Rosario, are known for coral reefs and year-round diving and snorkeling opportunities," says Bernal of this perennially popular destination located off the coast of Cartagena. Hop on a speedboat in town and escape to eco-friendly boutique hotels tucked away on sandy shores, offering some serious rest and relaxation far from the crowds. It's an affordable and laid-back alternative to the built-up Caribbean islands where you would spend your days fighting for beach chairs.

Barranquilla

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Among the cities on Colombia's Caribbean Coast, Barranquilla can't compete with buzzy, beautiful Cartagena. However, for one week a year, Colombia lives and breathes to the rhythms of the Carnival of Barranquilla. Folkloric dance, music, and rich, regional food shine among a packed schedule of events including the Battle of the Flowers, the Great Troupes Parade, and the Death of Joselito Carnival, each more vibrant than the last. It's such an essential spectacle that it made the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity .

Related: T+L's Guide to Colombia's Caribbean Coast

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The small city of Popayán still flies under the radar of most travelers, but it's all the better for it. Known as Colombia's "White City" for its grand historic center's whitewashed facades, this laid-back town feels like a breath of fresh air for travelers with an itinerary packed with just the country's biggest highlights. It's a great first stop on a road trip north through cities like Cali and to the haciendas and villages that make the Eje Cafetero so memorable.

Tatacoa Desert

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The Tatacoa Desert is the second-largest arid environment in Colombia, after the dune-studded La Guajira at the northern tip of South America. However, Tatacoa isn't a desert at all, but a long-dry tropical forest where lush flowers bloomed a millennium ago. Its unexpected past makes fossil-hunting a perfect pastime on hikes through its dramatic red canyons. Tatacoa's remote location and ideal atmospheric conditions also make it one of South America's best destinations for stargazing .

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Known as the capital city of salsa, Cali is the best place to visit in Colombia if you want to settle into several days of lessons to truly master these sensual steps. Zaperoco Bar is one of Cali's most famous salsa clubs, while Siboney — its name pointing to the rhythm's original Cuban roots — has long been one of Cali's salsa institutions. Fill your dance breaks by exploring the city's historic center and with day trips through the Valle del Cauca for river tubing, ziplining, and waterfall hikes.

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Tucked away within Utría National Natural Park on a remote stretch of Colombia's Pacific Coast, the tiny beach town of Nuquí is known as one of the best places in the country for whale watching. Between July and October, humpback whales travel from Antarctica to these warmer waters to give birth to their babies in the region's protected lagoons. Whale watching is the undisputed highlight for most travelers visiting Nuquí, but adventurous travelers will love surfing near jungle-fringed shores and hiking to long-hidden rainforest waterfalls.

San Andrés and Providencia

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Search for the islands of San Andrés and Providencia on a map, and you'd be forgiven for thinking they were a part of Central America. These tiny, remote islands over 450 miles from the Colombian mainland sit within a stretch of sea so azure it's called the "Sea of Seven Colors," and they are home to some of Colombia's last truly untouched beaches. Livelier San Andrés and more unspoiled Providencia are little-visited, idyllic destinations worth considering for your next unplugged, unbothered Caribbean getaway.

PlanetWare.com

14 Top-Rated Attractions & Places to Visit in Colombia

Written by Mark Johanson , Michael Law , and Lana Law Updated May 4, 2023

Authors Michael and Lana Law have made multiple trips to Colombia to explore the different regions. Their most recent trip in late 2022 took them to Medellin and Bogotá.

Cast all of your outdated ideas aside, like drug wars and gangsters, and you'll find that Colombia is a nation brimming with confidence and rushing headfirst into a more peaceful and prosperous future.

In this land of contrasts, you'll encounter snowcapped Andean peaks , tropical Amazonian jungles , turquoise Caribbean coasts , and two sun-kissed deserts. You'll also find a host of spectacular tourist attractions at the places in between, from the magic of Cartagena and the buzz of Medellin to the quiet colonial villages of Salento and Mompox.

Above all else, the famous Colombian hospitality will undoubtedly find you coming back for more. Find the best places to visit with our list of the top attractions in Colombia.

1. Cartagena

2. medellin, 3. eje cafetero, 5. tayrona national natural park, 7. the lost city (ciudad perdida), 8. providencia island, 10. la guajira peninsula, 11. hacienda nápoles, 12. caño cristales.

Cartagena

Cartagena is the crown jewel of Colombia's Caribbean coast and one of the best-preserved colonial destinations in the Americas. Take a stroll through the historic walled city , and you may feel as if you've stepped back in time to a different era.

Maybe it's the 13 kilometers of centuries-old walls, or the colorful colonial architecture, many of which are now beautifully restored restaurants and luxury hotels. Perhaps it's the bougainvillea-covered balconies along the labyrinthine streets or the soaring Catholic churches that tower above every plaza. Whatever it is, visitors can't help but fall for this Caribbean charmer.

Beyond the old city center lies laid-back Getsemani , and along the oceanfront is Bocagrande , a newer part of town, where upscale condos and hotels fight for prime seafront real estate. And less than an hour away by boat are islands and beaches , offering ideal places to visit for getaways and day trips.

Medellin

Bogotá might be the Colombian capital, but it's the smaller and more manageable city of Medellin that tends to capture the hearts of visitors. Medellin was dubbed the most dangerous city in the world in the early 1990s, but a quarter of a century later, it has earned a reputation for something entirely different: innovation.

The city boasts cable cars linking the settlements in its hills to a modern metro system in the valley below, a greenbelt of lush "eco parks," and striking libraries and community centers in some of the poorest neighborhoods.

A great day of sightseeing in Medellin might start in the Old Quarter at Botero Plaza , where you'll find a collection of 23 portly sculptures donated by the beloved Colombian artist Fernando Botero. Adjacent to the plaza is the must-visit Museum of Antioquia and the striking Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture . Then, head into the hills above town by riding the sleek escalator system through Comuna 13 to explore this neighborhood's colorful homes and elaborate street murals.

Finish your day in Medellin's trendiest commune, El Poblado , where you'll find buzzing eateries, boutique shops, and the vast majority of the city's hotels.

Eje Cafetero

The world's third-largest producer of coffee beans, Colombia is a fantastic country for tastings and tours. The vast majority of production takes place in the subtropical Andean hills west of Bogota between the small cities of Armenia, Pereira, and Manizales.

This region, known as the Eje Cafetero (or Coffee Axis), is home to a growing number of coffee plantations that have opened up their operations to the public in recent years for tours, tastings, and lavish farm stays.

These small (and often organic) plantations are the kind of places where the farmer-owner might take an hour out of his day to explain the process of how a humble "cherry" turns into a coffee bean that will one day be roasted and ground into a latte back home.

The small resort town of Salento is easily the most attractive place to base yourself, with numerous farm tours nearby and plenty of things to do. You'll also have easy access to attractions like Cocora Valley , home to the tallest palm trees in the world.

You can rent bicycles from Salento to explore the region under your own steam or ride on one of the old-fashioned Willy jeeps that serve as the town's de facto taxis.

Squirrel monkeys, Leticia

Picture the Amazon, and Colombia may not be the first country to come to mind — which is odd, because about a third of the nation is blanketed in its thick (and often impenetrable) jungles. The capital of the vast Amazon Basin is the small frontier town of Leticia, which sits along the banks of the mighty Amazon River, right where Colombia bumps up against Brazil and Peru .

Leticia makes a great base for eco-tourism , wildlife safaris, or hikes into the Amazon to learn about the Indigenous tribes that call this area home. The only way to arrive here is by plane from Bogotá, and you can continue onward by boat either downriver to Manaus, Brazil, or upriver to Iquitos, Peru.

Tayrona National Natural Park

You'll find some of the best beaches in Colombia within the protected Tayrona National Natural Park, which is known for its palm-shaded coves and crystal-clear coastal lagoons. Most beaches are set against the dramatic mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, whose rainforested hills make for a great side trip on any beach vacation.

Tayrona is also a fantastic place for snorkeling at protected areas near La Piscina beach and Cabo San Juan . Though remote, these secluded beaches aren't exactly a secret, so it's best to visit in low season (February to November) to avoid the massive crowds. Also, unless you're paying for the lavish Ecohabs Tayrona, be prepared to sleep in a tent (or hammock) at one of the many beachside campgrounds.

La Candelaria, Bogotá

Most visitors to Colombia will inevitably begin their trip in Bogota, the nation's largest city. It's a city that often divides opinion, with some complaining of its gridlocked streets and sometimes dreary weather, and others falling head over heels for its unique combination of colonial charm and urban sophistication. Either way, this city of eight million tends to grow on people who give it enough time.

Begin your sightseeing in Bogota in the historic center of La Candelaria , where you'll find the impressive buildings lining Plaza de Bolívar and can't-miss cultural attractions like the blindingly bright Museum of Gold . Then, head over to the wealthier neighborhoods of North Bogotá for some of the nation's best boutique shops and chef-driven restaurants.

For a bird's eye view of the city, be sure to take a trip up on the cable car to the Sanctuary of Monserrate . While up there settle in for a delightful and leisurely lunch or dinner at Casa San Isidro , serving fine Italian food, or enjoy Colombian food at the historical Santa Clara House dating from 1924.

The Lost City

Colombia's most popular hike is undoubtedly the four-day, 44-kilometer trek to Ciudad Perdida, a lost city hidden deep in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains that was only rediscovered in the 1970s. Built and occupied by Tayrona Indians between the 8th and 14th centuries, this ancient city is said to be one of the largest pre-Columbian settlements discovered in the Americas.

Much of the site remains buried beneath a thick jungle quilt because the modern Indigenous inhabitants of the area have banned excavations, but you'll find that the stone terraces and stairways are in outstanding shape.

Independent treks are not allowed, you will need to go with a sanctioned and approved tour operator who will provide a guide and all meals. You can book a tour from Santa Marta in advance.

If you decide to go, be prepared, this is no walk in the park. You'll face blazing heat, stifling humidity, rainstorms, copious quantities of mud, and insects. The trail, although easy to follow, is never flat, plan to always be going up or down. However, it's not all drudgery. Along the way, you'll be treated to spectacular jungle views and the opportunity to swim in rivers and ponds.

Hikes start early, usually around 5am to make use of the coolest part of the day. At the designated campgrounds, you'll either sleep in a hammock or on a mattress; mosquito nets are provided. You should count on being able to walk about 12 to 14 kilometers or seven to nine hours in a single session.

The trail is closed every September as part of an agreement with the local Indigenous community. The best time to go, with the least rain, is January and February.

Lovers Bridge, Providencia Island

This quirky Caribbean Island leaves many first-time visitors perplexed. For starters, it's far closer to Nicaragua than Colombia. Then there's the fact that its residents don't speak Spanish but rather an English Creole. Of course, none of that really matters when you find yourself sunning on the most stunning beaches under the Colombian flag.

Little more than a dollop of golden sands and perky palms, this isolated island is the jewel of the UNESCO-protected Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, with some of the world's greatest marine biodiversity just waiting to be explored.

You'll need to first stop on the more popular San Andrés Island and catch a short hopper plane or three-hour catamaran ride to reach Providencia. Once here, you'll find the largest collection of cottages and hotels in the small hamlet of Aguadulce on the stunning west coast of the island.

Mompox

Lovers of magic realism and the writings of Gabriel García Márquez will fall for the sleepy charms of Mompox. It features prominently in the Nobel laureate's book The General in His Labyrinth and is thought to be the inspiration for the fictional town of Macondo in his most famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude .

Mompox was once a prosperous cog in the trading route between the Caribbean coast and the Andes, famed as the spot where "El Libertador" Simón Bolívar recruited his army to gain independence for neighboring Venezuela . Now, this colonial relic along the muddy shores of the Magdalena River is truly a town that time forgot.

Though it lacks a wealth of things to do, many visitors find themselves spending far longer than planned strolling through the cobbled streets; soaking in the ambience of the colonial architecture; or taking boat trips through the Pijiño Swamp , a popular attraction for birders.

La Guajira Peninsula

It's the most northerly point in South America, so perhaps it's only fitting that La Guajira is unlike anywhere else on the continent. This remote and little-visited peninsula is a quiet oasis of sweeping sand dunes, bird-covered mangrove swamps, and vast stretches of empty land where the orange-brown La Guajira Desert meets the turquoise Caribbean Sea.

Indigenous beliefs are the law of the land here, as the peninsula is home to the proud Wayuu people, who were never subjugated under Spanish rule and maintain a vibrant culture to this day.

Keep in mind that tourism is still new in La Guajira, and the ride in from the regional capital of Riohacha requires both patience and a sense of adventure. The windsurfing and kiteboarding Mecca of Cabo de la Vela has the most tourism infrastructure and will likely be your best entry point into the region.

Entrance to Hacienda Nápoles

If there's one man who lingers large over Colombia's recent history, it's the billionaire drug trafficker Pablo Escobar. What few people realize is that you can actually visit the lavish estate built and owned by Escobar in Puerto Triunfo, about 110 miles east of Medellin.

The sprawling complex, known as Hacienda Nápoles, fell into disrepair in the decade after Escobar's death in 1993. But the local municipality took control of the property in the mid-2000s and turned it into-of all things-an ever-growing amusement park with an eclectic mix of themed zones, hotels, a water park, and safari-style zoo.

The amusements and hotels are new, and signs of Escobar are now limited. The ruins of his former mansion were bulldozed, and one of the Cessna planes he used to smuggle drugs to the US that used to be perched atop the entry gate is gone (as is the gate). The only thing remaining is a small museum that grapples with his legacy and some of his antique car collection rusting peacefully in the sun.

There is also a Jurassic zone filled with the life-size dinosaur replicas he purchased for his son and a wild hippo herd that, after years of heavy procreation, has grown from four to 40 and now represents the largest herd outside of Africa.

Caño Cristales

Caño Cristales was off limits for decades while in the grip of guerrilla fighters but is officially back in business and welcoming more tourists than ever before. Most visitors come to this remote river canyon in the Orinoquía region to hike between its waterfalls and bathe in its natural swimming holes.

While worth the trip in any season, the canyon is particularly prismatic between July and November, when an algae bloom turns the riverbed into a rainbow of colors. The isolated outpost of La Macarena is your base for trips to Caño Cristales, and it's only reachable by air from Bogotá or Villavicencio.

View over Cali

The inhabitants of Cali have a zest for life and fun that is unique in Colombia. And, how can you not, when your city is known around the world as the home of Salsa dance? Street festivals celebrating this sensual dance happen most evenings in the Juanchito area under the stars in the sultry air.

However, the city isn't all about dancing, it's also a foodie destination with a plethora of interesting restaurants helmed by innovative chefs making the most of the bounty from both the land and the Pacific Ocean, only a short distance away.

Dance, food, hot weather — what more do you need? Well, a bit of historical architecture dating from the 20th century coupled with friendly people round out the wonderful assortment of things to do in Cali.

Whale off Nuqui

The Caribbean coast of Colombia, with Cartagena as the shining star, soaks up most of the bandwidth when people think of coastal areas in Colombia. However, the small city of Nuqui and the Pacific Coast should not be overlooked by those with a taste for adventure and fun.

This incredibly biodiverse area is home to humid coastal jungles, waterfalls, and the full force of the Pacific Ocean. Empty beaches with humpback whales breeching just offshore, crystal clear rivers emptying into the sea, and some of the most incredible birdlife (especially hummingbirds) in the country await.

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A stunning scenic view over the landscape of Guatape, near Medellin, Colombia

From the blue waters of Tayrona National Park, the sweeping views of the Cocora Valley, and the ruins of San Agustín, Tierradentro, and the Lost City, to the white colonial buildings of Popayán and the hustle and bustle of its metropolises, Colombia is packed with things to see and do.

I’d wanted to visit Colombia for years. And after spending six weeks there, I must say, it lived up to the hype.

I had falsely assumed that six weeks would be enough to get a good sense of Colombia. After all, six weeks is a fair amount of time to spend anywhere.

But I was wrong. Given its size and the sheer number of activities, it was barely enough to scratch the surface.

Yet I did manage to see a lot.

Today I want to share my list of what I think are the best things to see and do in Colombia. These are the activities and places you should try to focus on when you visit:

1. Cartagena

A view over an expansive plaza surrounded by bright orange historic buildings with the harbor and modern skyscrapers in the background in Cartagena, Colombia

But despite the crowds (and there are a lot of crowds), I really enjoyed Cartagena . While there aren’t a lot of tourist activities (you can do most of them in a single day), what makes it a wonderful place to visit is just that: it’s somewhere you can slow down, relax, and gorge on the phenomenal gastronomy .

WHERE TO STAY: Casa Bustamante Hotel Boutique – A charming budget-friendly bed and breakfast with a swimming pool. It’s located in a colonial home just outside of the walled city.

For more, check out my Cartagena travel guide .

2. Tayrona National Park

The turquoise waters, white sand beaches, and palm trees of Tayrona National Parkin Colombia

It’s easy to visit as a day trip from Santa Marta , either independently or as part of a group tour . I highly suggest you start early at the big entrance at El Zaino and exit the park through Calabazo. This underused route takes a whole day, and once you pass the Cabo San Juan campground, you’ll get the last half of the trail to yourself. Try to avoid visiting during January, Colombian public holidays (especially Christmas and Easter), and weekends, when the crowds on the beaches and hiking paths are at their peak.

WHERE TO STAY: Hotel Jasayma – Located inside the park, here you can experience what the area is like once all the day-trippers go home. Choose from budget rooms or thatched bungalows and enjoy free breakfast in the morning.

3. The Lost City (La Ciudad Perdida)

Tiered stone platforms covered in grass in the jungle at the Lost City in Colombia

The Lost City was built around 800 CE and contains 169 terraces carved into the mountains, as well as a network of tiled roads and small plazas. It’s one of the most beautiful treks in the country, and the site is older than Machu Picchu!

To visit, you need to hire a tour operator (you can’t do it by yourself). It takes 4–6 days to do the trek from Santa Marta through the jungle up to these beautiful ruins and. If you’re pressed for time, you can also do it in three days; the only difference is the pace you go at. Expect to pay about $400-600 USD for tour with a local operator.

(Tip: You cross a lot of rivers, so be sure to bring an extra pair of shoes or flip flops for when you cross the rivers. You’ll easily ruin a pair of sneakers along the way.)

WHERE TO STAY: Casa Verde Hotel – Just a few blocks from the beach in Santa Marta’s Old Town, it offers outsized amenities for the price (there’s both an indoor swimming pool and rooftop hot tub).

bright streets in Salento, Colombia with doors painted yellow, pink, and blue

There’s not much to do in the city itself — it’s simply a base for coffee tours or hiking the Cocora Valley (see below) or the trails around town — so it’s easy to spend a few days here watching the world go by with a good book in hand.

WHERE TO STAY: Terrazas de Salento – Offers stunning views over the surrounding mountains, tranquil outdoor spaces with hammocks, an excellent breakfast, and super welcoming hosts.

5. Cocora Valley

the famous wax palms set against a green hill in Cocora Valley, Colombia

The route’s about five hours, and you can choose to either take the clockwise or counterclockwise route. The clockwise route, starting at the Wax Palm Valley, is easier, with fewer hills. Counterclockwise is easier at the end, though a little anticlimactic, as you end the hike walking down a boring road.

As it’s a popular hike, it’s easy to do independently, though there are also guided treks you can join as well.

(Tip: Start early to avoid the brutal midday heat, since there are a lot of exposed areas here.)

WHERE TO STAY: Salento (see above) is the closest town and jumping off point for hiking the Cocora Valley.

6. Bogotá

Brightly colored buildings lining a street in the historic neighborhood of La Candelaria in Bogotá, Colombia

Bogotá is Colombia’s vibrant capital. While it’s not the country’s most popular destination, it felt the most “Colombian” to me: there was just a certain edge and charm to it, and it seemed the least touristy with the fewest gringo expats. The historic downtown, La Candelaria, is filled with bright colonial buildings, detailed museums, delicious restaurants, tiny fun bars, historic churches, and centuries-old houses.

The north end of town is home to boutique hotels and entertainment areas like Zona Rosa and Zona G. The food scene in the city is incredible (its a great place to take a food tour so you learn about the big food scene in the city), with a lot of international and cutting-edge gastronomic restaurants. Throw in some amazing walking tours, day trips, and hikes and you’ve got a recipe for an astounding city.

For more, here’s a list of all my favorite things to do — and places to eat — in Bogota.

WHERE TO STAY: Magdalena Guest House – An affordable guest house in the heart of La Candelaria. Modern and cozy, there’s a little garden area and inner courtyard, a resident cat, comfy beds, and a guest kitchen.

people performing the salsa in a darkened room in Cali, Colombia

WHERE TO STAY: Magic Garden House – Located next to one of the city’s main parks, this hotel is walking distance to the historic center and all the city’s best dance schools.

For more, check out my budget travel guide to Cali .

8. Popayán

Flock of birds flying above the historic white buildings of Popayán, Colombia at sunrise

While you don’t need a lot of time (take the walking tour, climb the hill, see the churches, and you’re done), I do suggest staying longer to enjoy the slow pace of life. So much of Colombia is go-go-go, it’s nice to find a place that’s more “stay and relax a while.”

WHERE TO STAY: Hotel La Plazuela – Offers simple rooms (with great showers!) set in a restored 18th-century mansion in the heart of the city.

9. Tatacoa Desert

a cactus and bright red sand in Tatacoa Desert

Other than that, there’s not much here. Bike around the stunning rock formations, take some walks, stare at the sky. Stay a night or two. It’s not a popular area (it’s pretty remote), but it is a picturesque way to break up the long bus ride from Bogotá to the south or vice versa.

WHERE TO STAY: Hotel Colonial Villavieja – This hotel has both a swimming pool and air-conditioning, perfect for relaxing after a long day hiking at Tatacoa. It’s in Villavieja, the nearest town to Tatacoa.

10. San Agustín Archaeological Park

An ancient pre-Columbian statue in the rainforest next to an old tree with large roots.

WHERE TO STAY: Masaya San Agustin – Offers individual mountain huts and stunning views over the surrounding mountains. There’s a surprisingly fantastic restaurant on site too!

11. San Gil

A forest and trees in San Gil, Colombia

WHERE TO STAY: Located in a quiet neighborhood, Meraki Boutique Hostel – This is a sustainable guest house with a large and inviting common room, a fully equipped kitchen, and free filtered water to fill up your water bottles!

12. Providencia and San Andrés Islands

Colorful hut on a beach surrounded by palm trees in Providencia, Colombia

Providencia is actually the center of a huge UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that covers 10% of the Caribbean Sea, and it contains some of the world’s greatest marine biodiversity. Try to make it when tens of thousands of black crabs migrate to the sea. This happens twice a year for about a 1-2-week period between April and July, so it’s not always easy to nail the timing.

WHERE TO STAY: South West Bay Cabañas – Located just a 10-minute walk from a great beach, this hotel offers both air-conditioning and Wi-Fi, two amenities that aren’t always available on the island.

13. Medellín

The skyline of colorful Medellin, Colombia surrounded by greenery on a sunny day

It’s one of the most popular destinations for expats and tourists in the country. While it’s easy to get lost in Gringoland here, even if you’re staying there, try to get out of Poblado or Laureles and see the locals’ side of town. There’s more to the city than those two areas!

WHERE TO STAY: Nomada Hotel Origen – This is a chic mid-range hotel located in El Poblado, the best part of the city to stay for first-time visitors. A big, buffet-style breakfast is always included.

To start planning your trip, check out my travel guide to Medellín.

14. Guatapé

Beautiful and colorful streets with carved and decorated tiles on the sides of the buildings in Guatape, Colombia

Most people, though, come to climb the steep (and difficult) staircase to the top of the monolithic Rock of Guatapé (La Piedra) for some of the best views in the country. Guatapé is a long day trip from Medellín so I recommend trying to spend at least a night here so you aren’t as rushed and can enjoy the area little more.

WHERE TO STAY: Casa Encuentro Ecolodge – Located in a tranquil spot right along the lake, here you’ll find a variety of room options (from dorm beds to bungalows) as well as a fantastic breakfast.

15. Chingaza National Park

a lake in Chingaza National Park, Colombia

(Fun fact: Nearly 80% of Bogotá’s water supply comes from Chingaza and its 40 natural glacial lakes as well as man-made reservoirs.)

If you’re going to hike, joining a tour is a good idea. The guides are usually naturalists who can explain the unique environment of the area. One of the best routes is the challenging hike to the summit of Lagunas de Siecha, with a great view over the lakes.

WHERE TO STAY: Many people visit Chingaza as a day trip from Bogota (see accommodation recommendation above), though you can also wild camp in the park or stay in a dorm in the cabins in the Monterredondo section of the park.

16. Barranquilla

Women in bright pink and purple dresses, twirling around during Carnival in Barranquilla, Colombia

But there’s a lot to do here when it’s not Carnival season as well. Make sure you visit El Museo del Caribe, a museum offering an interesting insight into the history of Colombia’s Caribbean coast. There’s also a special exhibit dedicated to Gabriel García Márquez (the famous author who wrote Love in the Time of Cholera ).

WHERE TO STAY: Hotel Casa Colonial – This is a welcoming colonial-era guest house in the center of town, with a lush garden to relax in after a long day exploring.

17. Tierradentro

Tierradentro is one of the most important archaeological sites in South America. It’s up there with San Agustín but gets less press since it’s located in the middle of nowhere and not on a main road. It contains over 100 hypogea (underground tombs) dating from the sixth to the tenth centuries, the only examples of their kind in the Americas. It takes a day or two to hike all the paths around the tombs. You can hire a guide if you want, but the trails are pretty easy to do on your own.

WHERE TO STAY: La Portada Hospedaje – This is one of the only accommodation options in the tiny town of San Andrés just outside the archaeological site. Fortunately, it’s a great family-run lodge that offers delicious home-cooked meals and plenty of hammocks to relax in.

18. Manizales (and Los Nevados)

the snow-capped mountains of Los Nevados

But the main reason people visit is to hike Los Nevados, a mountain range with majestic snow-capped peaks. You can do a day or multi-day hike, but whatever you do, don’t rush up to the top — acclimatize yourself to the altitude in Manizales for a few days first. The town is 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) above sea level, but the mountains are at 6,000 meters (19,700 feet)! I wasn’t climatized and could really feel the altitude just walking around town. Don’t push yourself if you want to do the hike.

WHERE TO STAY: Ayenda 1140 Roma Plaza – A basic budget hotel that’s walkable to all the main sights in town. If you have a rental car, you can stay at one of the many lodges in the surrounding area. You can even stay on a coffee farm !

19. The Caribbean Coast

A deserted beach covered in palm trees in the town of Palomino on Colombia's tropical Caribbean Coast

WHERE TO STAY: Rincón del Mar Palomino – This hotel is just a 10-minute walk from the beach and has a free breakfast, a swimming pool, and lots of common areas for hanging out in.

20. Punta Gallinas

Punta Gallinas is the northernmost point in all of South America. Most people come here via a tour from Santa Marta or Cabo de la Vela, with the latter (through La Guajira Desert) being the better option if you just want to take your time and relax because it’s closer so there’s a lot less drive time. In fact, the only way to see the area is via a tour. Most are two or three nights depending on where you’re coming from. Any hostel can organize a trip for you.

WHERE TO STAY: Playa Arco Iris – This is one of the only accommodation options in town, offering basic amenities like water 24/7 and electricity thanks to their solar panel set-up (these amenities aren’t common in the region).

A covered shelter with benches in the lush forests of Minca, Colombia

There are a lot of waterfalls in the area as well. Two of the best are Pozo Azul and Marinka. Both have swimming holes at them too.

WHERE TO STAY: Mundo Nuevo Ecolodge – This budget-friendly lodge is located on a sustainable farm. There are dorms and private rooms, an infinity pool, and a restaurant serving fresh food from the farm.

Colombia has a million and one things to do. I lost track of all the places I kept wishing I had time to visit. You can spend months there (and a lot of people to do). However, I think this list is a great start. My recommendation is that if you’re short on time, fly (the bus rides are long) or just stick to one area of the country and go in depth around that region.

Trying to “see it all” in Colombia is just a recipe for burnout!

Book Your Trip to Colombia: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight Use Skyscanner to find a cheap flight. They are my favorite search engine because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

  • Safety Wing (for everyone below 70)
  • Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
  • Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)

Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.

Want More Information on Colombia? Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Colombia for even more planning tips!

Got a comment on this article? Join the conversation on Facebook , Instagram , or Twitter and share your thoughts!

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above may be affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I recommend only products and companies I use and the income goes to keeping the site community supported and ad free.

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Wander-Lush

29 Unforgettable Things to Do in Colombia in 2024

From hiking and biking to cooking and coffee picking, scuba diving to dancing salsa, Colombia offers a myriad of unforgettable experiences for every type of traveller.

I spent a wonderful month in Colombia exploring Bogota, Medellin and small towns in Antioquia. I only managed to scratch the surface of this huge, diverse nation – there’s still so much I have to see and do!

This list of Colombia must-dos covers some of the best outdoor activities and immersive cultural experiences on offer. Read on for the ultimate Colombia bucket list to inspire your trip.

Is there something we missed? Let me know your favourite thing to do in Colombia in the comments below.

  • Also see: The best places to visit in Colombia this year

Please note: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission if you make a purchase by clicking a link (at no extra cost to you). Learn more.

29 of the best things to do in Colombia this year

Explore cartagena’s colonial old town.

Orange and yellow buildings in Cartagena's colonial Old Town, a must visit in Colombia.

Cartagena’s Old Town, also known as the ‘Walled City’ , is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its well-preserved colonial architecture, charming plazas, and vibrant culture.

Visitors can spend hours wandering the narrow streets and admiring the colourful buildings and street art. I visited it a few years ago and I was astonished by its beauty.

One popular activity in the Old Town I strongly recommend is visiting the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a fortress built by the Spanish in the 16th century to protect the city from pirate attacks. The fortress offers stunning views of the city and the Caribbean Sea.

Another must-see attraction is the Palacio de la Inquisicion, a former palace that now houses a museum detailing the history of the inquisition in Cartagena. Visitors can also explore the many churches and cathedrals in Old Cartagena, including the Cathedral of Santa Catalina de Alejandria and the Church of San Pedro Claver.

Practical tips for visiting Old Town include wearing comfortable shoes, as the streets are cobblestone and can be uneven. Also, it is recommended to visit during the day as some areas can be unsafe at night.

Visitors should also be prepared for the heat and humidity – bring sunscreen and a hat.

Cartagena’s Old Town is a must-see destination for anyone visiting Cartagena. Touring the fortress, palaces and churches, and experiencing the local food and culture are experiences that are worth doing.

By Leo from Safari Nomad

→ Recommended: Private city walking tour of Cartagena

Tour a Colombian coffee plantation in Eje Cafetero

Coffee plants grow in the Colombian hinterland.

Coffee is one of the world’s most delectable little pleasures, not to mention one of the most consumed beverages worldwide: we drink two billion cups of coffee every single day.

Colombia has some of the world’s best coffee, and most of it comes from the Eje Cafetero or the coffee-growing axis, a triangle located in western Colombia along the central Andes – and a landscape classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site .

Visiting a coffee plantation here is not only entertaining but informative, with coffee producers explaining the entire process from planting and farming right through to tasting and packaging. And, you get to taste what coffee is really like before all the processing.

Some of the coffee farms are located far up the mountainside and are extremely difficult to reach, requiring a guide and a sturdy vehicle. In the valley, though, a string of impossibly picturesque towns, including Salento and Filandia, are irresistible, with their brightly painted houses.

Not far from Salento is the Valle de Cocora, home of the giant wax palms that exist nowhere else. To get there, just hop on one of the jeeps in Salento’s central square (see the next section below).

Wherever you go in Colombia’s coffee-growing region , you’ll be drawn in by the scenery and the hospitality – and by the inability to put away your camera because you’ll want to photograph every single building, market and street.

By Leyla from Women on the Road

→ Recommended: Half-day coffee plantation tour from Medellin

Walk amongst the wax palms in the Cocora Valley

A green landscape of towering wax palm trees seen on the Cocora Valley hike outside Salento, Colombia.

The Valle del Cocora or Cocora Valley is one of the most magical places to visit in Colombia . Known for its towering wax palm trees, rolling green hills and misty cloud forests, it is a landscape like no other.

Hiking in the Cocora Valley is a must for active travellers and anyone who wants to soak up the beauty of the Coffee Axis. The closest town, Salento, is an ideal departure point, and transportation to the trailheads via Willy Jeep is readily available from the main square.

There are a range of walking routes available in the valley, ranging from a mere 30 minutes on foot to full-day treks. The classic Cocora Hike takes around 5-6 hours to complete. You will navigate suspension bridges, trace empty mud roads, and walk along ridges with spectacular views.

To avoid the afternoon rain showers, it’s recommended to set off from Salento in the early morning. Walking counter-clockwise – starting in the rainforest and ending in the Bosque de las Palmas, the highlight of Valle del Cocora National Natural Reserve – is the best way to go.

→ Recommended: Cocora, Salento and Filandia Tour

Climb El Penol in Guatape

Aerial view of El Penol in Guatape, a giant rock formation overlooking a reservoir near Medellin.

The towering granite rock of El Peñol (also called La Piedra) draws many tourists to the beautiful lakeside town of Guatape. The rock reaches 740 feet into the sky and offers breathtaking views of the waterways below for anyone who dares to climb its 600-plus steep steps.

The rock-hewn stairs criss-cross up the sheer face of the rock almost like the lacing of a corset. The stair railings are high – there is nothing dangerous or scary about the climb. It’s suitable for children, and kids under 100 cm tall can climb for free.

There are a few places to take a break and catch your breath as you go. In some places, water drips down, making the stairs a bit slippery. Luckily, most of the climb is shaded, so you won’t be fighting the hot Colombian sun.

Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the man-made reservoir below. Visit the small cafe and gift shop before heading back down the stairs to the bottom. When I visited, I rewarded myself for the difficult climb with an ice cream at the base of the rock.

If you have time, head into the town of Guatape, just a five-minute tuk-tuk ride from La Piedra. Here, you’ll find colourful buildings painted with bas-relief symbols and streets packed with pretty cafes and shops.

Visiting Guatape is a great day trip from Medellin – the bus ride is around 2 hours, and coaches depart from Medellin’s Terminal del Sur every 30 minutes. The driver will drop you off at the base of the rock before heading into town (listen for the call “La Piedra”).

By Cynthia from ​​Sharing the Wander

→ Recommended: El Peñol with boat, breakfast & lunch from Medellin

Witness Colombia’s transformation on a tour of Comuna 13

A tour guide explains the meaning behind street murals in Medellin's Comuna 13.

If you want to come away from Colombia with a deeper understanding and empathy for the country’s past struggles, a tour of Comuna 13 in Medellin is a must-do.

This notorious mountaintop barrio was once one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the world. In recent years it has undergone immense transformation and now serves as one of the city’s top tourist attractions .

A guided tour of Comuna 13 with a local guide is an eye-opening and enriching experience. Not only will you get to see the best of the area’s street murals and ride the famous escalas eléctricas outdoor escalators, you’ll also get to hear first-hand stories about the neighbourhood’s violent past and how families are fighting for a better future.

Vibrant street graffiti, hip-hop dancing and music dominate the streets of Comuna 13, where creativity and artistic expression has proven to be a way to process past traumas.

The area is safe for tourists, but it’s easy to lose your way in the warren of narrow alleyways. It’s recommended to join a guided tour to get the most out of the experience.

→ Recommended: Comuna 13 graffiti and street food tour

Photograph the houses in Jardin, Antioquia’s most colourful pueblo

Painted houses in Jardin, Colombia's most colourful village.

Often dubbed the most colourful town in Antioquia Department, Jardin is a photographer’s dream. The pueblo can be reached in around 4 hours by road from Medellin and is an ideal stop-off on your way to the Valle del Cocora and Coffee Axis.

Like most towns in this part of Colombia, Jardin was built off the back of coffee and sugarcane. Residents of Jardin are known for being house proud and painting their abodes in a wonderful array of bright colours . Flower boxes, carved wooden balconies and cute shutters add to each house’s curb appeal.

A self-guided walking tour of Jardin is the best way to discover the town, whose name comes from the Spanish word for ‘garden’. Spot the rose buses and manicured shrubs around El Libertador Park, Jardin’s main square made from beautiful river rocks and locally quarried stone. Colourful bars and cafes line the perimeter, and you can have great fun lingering at one of these watering holes where locals gather to shoot the breeze.

The town’s centrepiece, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, is an impressive Neo-Gothic stone cathedral with a blue ombre interior and sparkling silver towers.

Spend a night at the Hotel Jardin, a classic finca in the centre of town with an open internal courtyard and the same popping colour scheme.

Step back in time in charming Jerico

A man rides his horse in front of colourful houses in Jerico, Colombia.

If Jardin is the most colourful town in Colombia, then Jerico is surely the most charming. The two are only a 2-hour drive apart, yet many tourists skip over Jerico, not realising how lovely it is.

I spent a full week in Jericó walking the steep streets, hiking to various viewpoints over the valley and eating my body weight in Bandeja Paisa. At times it truly feels like time has stood still in this small town, where men dressed in wool ponchos and gorgeous sombrero vueltiao hats still get around the cobblestone streets on horseback.

For the full experience, spend a night or two at El Despertar , a beautiful boutique hotel set inside an old Antioquian mansion house.

Grab a drink at the delightfully retro Tangos y Algo Más bar , visit the Casa Natal Madre Laura, a small house museum dedicated to Colombia’s first Saint who was born here in Jerico, and spend a few hours strolling in the Botanical Garden.

The thing I love most about Jerico are the many workshops in town where artisans craft Carriel bags, a distinctive style of satchel that is a Jerico specialty and has become part of every Paisa’s traditional uniform.

There is no better authentic Colombian souvenir than a handmade Jerico Carriel bag embossed with the leather smith’s mark.

Summit Monserrate for the best views of Bogota

A walking path leads up Monserrate in Bogota, one of the best experiences in Colombia.

Monserrate is one of the most iconic landmarks in Colombia . Located in the heart of Bogota, this mountain rises 133 metres above the city and offers breathtaking views of the city and its surrounding area. Visiting it is a must on any Bogota itinerary .

The journey to Monserrate is just as incredible as reaching the peak itself. Visitors can either take a cable car ride up the steep mountainside, or choose to hike approximately 1.8 miles (3 kilometres) one-way. Whichever way you decide you go, you’ll be blessed with stunning views along the way.

At the summit, you will find a 17th-century church that has been preserved over the years. There are also several cafes and restaurants where you can buy a refreshment as you admire the capital from above.

I recommend you visit Monserrate for sunset , when the cityscape of Bogota is decorated by a warm glow. If you stay past sunset, you can also watch the city slowly illuminate.

It is important to bring something warm with you. The peak of Monserrate is 3,152 metres high, which means it can get very cold, especially at night!

By Sean from Living Out Lau

→ Recommended: Monserrate and La Candelaria private tour

Get back to nature in Tayrona National Park

Waves crash against palm trees in Tayrona National Park.

Visiting Tayrona National Park (Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona) is one of the best nature experiences in Colombia. Located on the Caribbean coast, the park covers around 58 square miles of land and 11 square miles of ocean habitat, offering lush rainforests, beautiful beaches and Indigenous cultures to explore .

To reach the beaches and hiking trails, you’ll need to hike or hire a horse from the park entrance at El Zaíno, or take a boat from Taganga. Some people come here on a day trip, but I’d recommend spending a night or two to enjoy the tranquil coastline after the day trippers have gone.

There are a variety of options for where to stay in Tayrona National Park , from luxury ecohabs to camping and sleeping in a hammock. If you’re on a budget, hammocks or tents at Cabo San Juan del Guia are the best option, as you camp right next to the beach, listening to the waves as you fall asleep.

Don’t miss waking up for an incredible sunrise – you won’t regret it!

Aside from the beautiful beaches, you don’t have to go far to find culture in Tayrona as many Indigenous communities from the region still dwell inside the National Park. I recommend a hike to El Pueblito, the Indigenous settlement deep in the jungle.

Keep a lookout for wildlife as you walk – if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of an endangered cotton-top tamarin, a howler monkey, or some of the many bats, birds, butterflies and more.

By Claire from Tales of a Backpacker

Hike to Ciudad Perdida, Colombia’s Lost City

The Lost City, an ancient ruin in the Colombian jungle.

Located deep in the jungles of northwestern Colombia, Ciudad Perdida or ‘The Lost City’ is an archaeological site that was hidden away for centuries. ‘Rediscovered’ in 1972, it dates to 700 AD – making it 650 years older than Machu Picchu.

Only 10% of the site has been uncovered, so there is still plenty left for archaeologists to discover. The ruins have been open to tourists for the past 15 years, however, they are still surprisingly under-visited and well worth exploring if you want an authentic Colombian experience.

Ciudad Perdida can only be reached on foot. The 28 mile round-trip hike takes 4-6 days to complete. The route traverses the lush, humid jungles of the Sierra Nevada mountains and includes thrilling river crossings and steep hills. The tropical heat and humidity make this trek a gruelling one, so if you want to make it easier, opt for the 6-day version which includes more downtime.

Comparable to Peru’s infamous Inca Trail, this adventurous trek involves sleeping in hammocks, swimming in outdoor pools, visiting local Indigenous communities – and if you are lucky like I was, seeing a toucan in the wild!

Visiting during the dry season (December to March) is advised as the river crossings can reach chest height during Colombia’s wet season. Either way, a pair of waterproof shoes is a must for this trek.

By Roshni from TopTreehouses.com

→ Recommended: Guided 4-day Lost City Trek from Santa Marta

Go island hopping in the Rosario Islands, Cartagena’s Caribbean paradise

Boats float on crystal clear waters off the Rosario Islands near Cartagena.

Experiencing the charm of the colonial city of Cartagena is without a doubt one of the top things to do in Colombia. Spending a day out in the nearby Rosario Islands is the perfect complement to the flower covered balconies and historic fortifications of the city.

These coral islands surrounded by crystal clear waters are located about an hour’s boat ride away from Cartagena. The beaches here are so much prettier than those in town, and there is some pretty good snorkelling, too.

It’s tons of fun to do a private boat rental if you have the budget for it or can put together a group to make it cost effective. If not, there are some great tours by catamaran and multi-island trips that make several stops at different beaches and islands.

There are several great beach clubs in the islands, including Bora Bora Beach Club. Many Rosario Islands resorts also offer day passes. If you have time to linger longer, for a luxury stay, consider Las Islas lovely bungalows or Isla del Encanto , and for good value, consider IslaBela .

By Adam from CartagenaExplorer.com

→ Recommended: Catamaran excursion to the Rosario Islands

Walk underwater on San Andres

The San Andreas Archipelago is famous for being the only territory in the Caribbean Sea that belongs to the country of Colombia. Made up of two neighbouring islands, the larger being San Andreas, and the smaller Providencia, San Andreas is more remote than the Rosario Islands but is still a popular destination for travellers in Colombia.

The easiest way to get to San Andres Island is by taking a short flight from the mainland. Do be aware that once you arrive on the island, you should arrange transportation from the airport, as there is no Uber nor other ride-hailing apps on San Andreas or Providencia.

Known for its crystal-clear water, gorgeous beaches and world-class diving sites, San Andreas is a great place to go scuba diving or get your PADI Scuba Certification. 

Some of the most popular dive sites off of San Andreas include Trampa de Tortugas (‘Turtle Trap’ in English), La Rocosa (‘The Rocks’), Raggaenest, Bajo Bonito (‘Good Deep’), Los Recuerdos (‘The Memories’), and Trilogia (‘The Trilogy’). Each of these sites is good for a casual dive of around 1 hour. 

Don’t have your scuba certification? No Problem! San Andreas Island also has a very popular type of diving available for tourists that requires no PADI certification. It is called Aquanautas Helmet Diving – essentially you’re given a little fishbowl helmet that enables you to breathe underwater while walking on the ocean floor.

Snorkelling, diving and going on an underwater sea walk with Aquanautas are all amazing water activities any visitor will enjoy.

By Katie From KatieCafTravel.com

→ Recommended: Aquanautas Helmet Diving in San Andres

Explore the Forest of Statues in San Agustin Archaeological Park

An icon statue in the forest inside San Agustin Archaeological Park.

Nestled deep in the forests of Huila in south-western Colombia, San Agustín Archaeological Park (Parque Arqueológico De San Agustin) is one of the country’s premier pre-Columbian sites. This giant open-air museum is made for history buffs.

Inscribed by UNESCO in 1995, the sprawling landscape of megaliths and monuments dates back to 3000 BC and speaks to Colombia’s pre-Hispanic cultures , their mythology and rituals. Many of the edifices seen today were created as part of funerary rights.

Begin at the small Archaeological Museum to build a bit of background knowledge, then depart on one of the walking trails around the park that leads between excavated terraces and burial sites. Key statues such as the Bosque De Estatuas are all marked on the map.

The full route takes around 3-4 hours to complete on foot and requires some pre-planning – bring sunscreen, a hat and plenty of drinking water. The Forest of Statues, a sheltered path that highlights 39 key tombstones, is perfect for families with kids.

→ Recommended: Private tour of San Agustin with a local guide

Party at Carnival in Barranquilla, South America’s second-largest celebration

Women dressed in traditional costumes for the Carnival in Barranquilla, Colombia.

Every year, the city of Barranquilla hosts the famous Barranquilla Carnival – the world’s second largest carnival celebration after Rio de Janeiro. Experiencing the 4-day festival is without doubt one of the best things to do in Barranquilla and even in the whole of South America.

Carnival is the celebration held in the days before the Lenten fasting period in the lead-up to Easter. The dates change every year, but usually Carnival season falls around mid February or early March.

Barranquilla’s Carnival is full of elaborate parades, traditional displays of Colombian dance and music, and lots of impressive costumes. The entire city turns into a giant party and you’ll see people celebrating everywhere. The atmosphere is electric.

The carnival is free to attend (you can buy tickets if you want a good view), but it does get extremely busy so it’s advisable to arrive in the morning to get a good spot for the parades. It’s also recommended to wear a money belt under your clothes, bring plenty of water, and of course dress up for the party!

If your travel dates don’t coincide with the Barranquilla Carnival, don’t worry – you can still visit the Museo del Carnaval which is full of extravagant costumes and decorations.

By ​​Catrina from 24 Hours Layover

Attend Feria de Cali, Colombia’s premier salsa festival

Dancers in colourful costumes participate in a parade for Feria de Cali festival.

December is usually the liveliest time of year no matter where you are in Colombia. If you find yourself in a festive mood, one thing that is worth dropping everything for is the opportunity to experience Feria de Cali.

This annual Salsa Festival usually runs from the 25th to the 30th of December and it attracts more than 2 million people from all over the world. The celebrations carry on over into the new year so it turns into somewhat of a giant New Year’s Eve street party.

Cali is famous for some of the world’s best salsa dancing and schools. Watch in awe as the Caleño style salsa takes over the city with sizzling hot dancers, colourful costumes, and live appearances featuring some of Colombia’s most accomplished dancers.

Most of the main events are free to watch, but to get a seat to see the Salsadrome and the parades live in action you will need to purchase advanced tickets .

While you’re here, don’t miss the opportunity to try a cholado , a typical dessert made from shaved ice, fruit and condensed milk usually topped with shredded cheese or whipped cream. A cholado at Canchas Panamericanas is an absolute must while in Cali!

By Maddalena from Venice Travel Tips

Take a street art tour in Cartagena’s Getsemani

A man sleeping in front of a vibrant piece of street art in Cartagena.

Getsemani is a bohemian barrio in Cartagena that has shaken off its bad reputation thanks to gentrification and the resilience of local residents. It is now a popular hangout among backpackers and the bourgeoisie alike, who come here searching for street food and hip restaurants. This vibrant colonial neighbourhood is oozing with charm and character.

The best thing to do in Getsemani to discover the area’s unique cultural identity is a street art tour hosted by a local. Our passionate guide talked us through the history of the Spanish colonists, the abolition of slavery, the independence movement in Trinidad Plaza, and the more recent tumultuous period to set the scene.

The eye-popping graffiti art conveys messages on every facade in Getsemani. Expressing important social, ethnic, and political issues is part of the culture. Many murals are inspired by local legends and forgotten heroes.

The tour finishes at the locally-owned Carpentiros Bar where you can see photos of all the remaining residents on the wall.

To experience the real spirit of the Getsemani, hang around to watch the barrio come alive at night. Cocktails are served at pop-up bars outside residents’ houses, and the street performers prove just how much Colombians love their music!

By Vanessa from Wanders Miles

→ Recommended: Graffiti tour in Getsemani

Learn how to make empanadas at a Colombian cooking class

Two people make empanadas during a Colombian cooking class.

After you’ve spent even just a day or two in Colombia, you’ll realise that Colombian cuisine is delightfully unique and absolutely delicious. One of the best things to do in Cartagena is participate in a cooking class where you’ll learn the ins and outs of creating a delicious traditional Colombian meal.

Our cooking class took place in a kitchen tucked away on one of the gorgeous side streets of the Old Town. The instructors – two outgoing Colombian women – took us and a very small group through the process of creating several traditional meals.

We started with pureeing a fresh coconut to make coconut rice. Then we took a whole fish and rubbed it with herbs, seasonings, oil, and lime, and wrapped it in foil to cook. We pounded an entire block of sugarcane, breaking it into pieces to mix with water to create sugarcane lemonade. We prepared empanadas, and peeled and double fried plantains to make homemade patacones .

At the end of our 2-hour cooking class, we went into the restaurant dining room to sit back, relax, and savour our creations. Those Colombian women definitely knew what they were doing – this was one of the most delicious meals we ate in our entire time in Colombia.

Cooking masterclasses and workshops are available in other cities in Colombia, too – including in Bogota .

By Stephanie from The Unknown Enthusiast

→ Recommended: Bazurto Market tour and cooking class in Cartagena

Eat tropical fruits at the markets in Medellin

A vendor at the Plaza Minorista fruit market in Medellin, Colombia.

Colombia is synonymous with tropical fruit – and there’s no better place in the country to sample the goods than Medellin. Fertile Antioquia Department is Colombia’s ‘fruit basket’, and Medellin is where farmers come to offload their exotic produce.

A guided tour of Medellin’s fruit markets is a great way to get a handle on the world of tropical fruits Colombia is known for. From humble stalls to humming wholesale markets, it’s a window onto a vital aspect of Colombian culture.

As well as familiar faces – bananas, avocados, plantains – unusual fruits such as lulo, maracuya, guayaba and mamoncillo. Juice them or throw them down whole – whichever way you slice it, a fruit-themed tour is a terrifically fun experience.

Don’t miss the Mayorista Central Market, the largest produce market in the city that accommodates thousands of vendors and serves customers from all over Colombia. Primarily outdoors, it’s made up of rows upon rows of small warehouses. Shoppers travelling on foot can explore the labyrinth of tarpaulin-covered stalls. 

My favourite market, the Plaza Minorista José María Villa opened in 1984 and houses around 3,000 vendors – many of whom have personalities as vibrant as the produce they’re selling!

Finally, the Placita de Flores flower market, the smallest and oldest of the trio with a history that goes back to 1881, has a wonderful array of fruit and other types of produce.

→ Recommended: Medellin exotic fruits tour

Try the tasting menu at Leo in Bogota – one of the best things to do in Colombia for gastronomes

A gastronomic experience in Colombia at Leo restaurant in Bogota.

You’ve no doubt heard stories about Colombia’s biodiversity – this country is said to be the second-most biodiverse country in the world behind only Brazil. What if I told you there’s a restaurant in Bogota where you can actually taste that biodiversity?

Leo is a fine dining restaurant in the Colombian capital that offers 7 to 13-course tasting menus. It’s helmed by celebrity chef Leonor Espinosa , proclaimed in 2022 as the World’s Best Female Chef. 

What makes her tasting menus interesting is that she utilises obscure ingredients sourced from the most far-flung corners of Colombia. Palm weevils, Santander ants and Amazonian coquindo oil are just a few of the many exotic foods she uses in a culinary concept she likes to call Ciclo-Bioma .

At the end of your meal, you’ll receive a tasting menu with a map detailing every ingredient used and where it was sourced from. It’s a fascinating insight into the country’s ecology and the creativity of a chef determined to showcase her country’s diversity.

In 2022, Leo was named #48 on the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants (13 on Latin America’s 50 Best). If interesting food excites you, then booking a table at Leo in Bogota is a must.

By JB from Will Fly for Food

Have an unforgettable Colombian dining experience at the original Andres Carne de Res

A plate of Colombian steak at the famous Andres Carne de Res restaurant.

For a Colombian dining experience bordering on theatrical, don’t skip Andres Carne de Res. It’s anything but your typical restaurant, even for Colombians, who love maximum fun.

The original Andres Carne de Res (which means ‘Andres Beef’) in Chia, an hour north of bustling Bogota, is quite a spectacle. A sprawling space devoted to Colombians’ love of beef and excess, even the parking lot at Andres Carne de Res (Andres) is huge!

Expect to be enveloped by explosions of bright decor, loud music, dancing diners, enthusiastic employees, and large plates of delicious food at this Colombian institution.

Colombians visit Andres for special occasions such as birthdays. As a tourist, you don’t need any excuse except wanting to experience the best of Bogota . While steak is the main dish, the highlight of the menu is fun.

Anthony Bourdain fans and purists will want to visit the original Chia location, and it is a great time, but it isn’t the only Andres location anymore. The brand’s popularity has led to its expansion across the country – you can find restaurants in Cartagena, Medellin, and in downtown Bogota.

By Melinda from Mel On The Go

→ Recommended: Private transfer to Andres in Chia from Bogota

Stand in South America’s biggest plaza in Villa de Leyva

The wide open cobbled plaza in Villa de Leyva.

Villa de Leyva, voted ‘one of the most beautiful pueblos in Colombia’, is a wonderful day trip from Bogota and a must on your Colombia itinerary . It’s touristy, yes – but almost exclusively with Colombian tourists, which adds to the charming feel.

There are plenty of sights in town and in the surrounding area to keep you busy for a couple of days. The highlights of our visit were the archaeological site El Infiernito, the dinosaur remains, and the nearby artesanía village of Raquira.

But Villa de Leyva’s biggest attraction is right in the centre of town. The cobbled main square, Plaza Mayor de Villa de Leyva, is the biggest in Colombia and one of the largest in all of America, covering an incredible 150,000 square feet.

Every year, locals and international tourists gather for two grand festivals that take place in the square. El Festival del Viento y Las Cometas (the Wind and Kite Festival) is held in August and consists of a variety of kite contests in which competitors of all ages have an opportunity to showcase their ingenuity, creativity, and expertise. These categories include handmade kites, giant kites, and acrobatic stunts choreographed for synchronised flight.

The other is the Festival del Caballo (the Horse Festival) in October. We were lucky enough to visit during this festival. It’s a remarkable show featuring horses of all breeds from around the world. Afterwards you can get an up-close look at the horses and have a conversation with the riders.

By Babs from Mums on Flip Flops

→ Recommended: Villa de Leyva day trip from Bogota

Tour the incredible Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

Lights illuminate Zipaquira Salt Cathedral, one of the most unique things to do in Colombia.

One unusual day trip not to miss on any visit to Bogota and Colombia is the underground salt cathedral called Zipaquira.

The Roman cathedral is carved into the salt and rock 650 feet underground. The main nave is like nothing you have ever seen before. At 500 feet long and 72 feet high, it is seriously impressive.

An audio tour is included in the ticket price. Expect to spend 2-3 hours visiting the main nave and the many smaller chapels. The temperature inside is around a constant 57 degree Fahrenheit (14 degree Celsius), so remember to bring some warm clothes, even if you are visiting during the summer.

From Bogota, there is a direct bus from Terminal del Norte station which takes around 2 hours to reach Zipaquira. Alternatively, if travelling by car, the journey time is about 1 hour. Zipaquira is a popular tourist destination and a place of pilgrimage for locals, so try to avoid visiting on the weekend when it gets very busy.

By Kristin from Scotland Less Explored

→ Recommended: Group tour to Zipaquira with guaranteed daily departure

Enjoy an open-air spa at the El Totumo Mud Volcano

Two men sell items to tourists in front of El Totumo, a giant mud volcano accessed by a long ladder.

The Mud Volcano of Colombia (also called El Totumo) is an exciting natural wonder. Located near Loma de Arena, just an hour’s drive from Cartagena, this unique geological phenomenon is created by eruptions of heated mud from deep within the Earth’s core.

The mud is piping hot and highly acidic, but it has amazing therapeutic properties that are said to help with skin and joint ailments.

Visiting the Mud Volcano is a unique experience that can’t be found anywhere else in Colombia. As you approach, the smell of sulfur is strong but inviting. You will be amazed when you see the steam rising from the pools of bubbling mud. You can take a dip in one of the nearby pools and let the hot mud embrace your body.

The mud is thermal, so it can be quite soothing.

Those who choose to take a plunge in the Vulcano’s mud pools should be aware of some safety precautions. It is best to wear appropriate footwear as the mud can be slippery (don’t let the same thing happen to you that happened to me – I ended up face down in the mud).

It’s important to remember that the mud is very hot and acidic, so you should take regular breaks and stay hydrated while soaking in the minerals. It can be harsh on bare skin if you enter the pools unprotected.

By Giorgy from G-Extreme Travel

→ Recommended: Tour to the mud volcano from Cartagena with lunch included .

Conquer the Paramillo del Quindio in Los Nevados National Park

A woman dressed in purple leggings hiking in Colombia's Los Nevados National Park.

If you’re up for a challenge during your trip to Colombia, you may want to try your hand trekking in Los Nevados National Park south of Medellin.

Located in the Colombian Andes just outside the popular town of Salento, most come here to trek through Cocora Valley while few venture further into the Paramillo. Trekking deeper brings you to stunning landscapes, views of volcanoes, and even glaciers.

To explore this area, you’ll have to tackle a multi-day hike. There are numerous routes available, including the popular three-day hike that summits Paramillo Del Quindio, an inactive volcano. Aside from breathtaking views of the canyons, craters, and mountains, you’ll be walking amongst a bunch of frailejones , funky fuzzy plants that play a major role in the water cycle of Colombia.

You’ll stay at mountain fincas (farms) in simple bunk-bed accommodations and enjoy hearty home-cooked breakfasts and dinners. A knowledgeable guide for the hike is mandatory as there is little to no signage and conditions can change quickly.

Before taking on this trek, ensure you have the right travel backpack that can also be used for hiking. You also absolutely need a good jacket, quick-dry clothing, and proper footwear. At the summit of the mountain, you’ll be freezing, but when you start and end the hike, you’ll be sweating – so layering is essential.

This might be a pretty challenging thing to do in Colombia and not really for beginner hikers, but it’s 1000% worth it!

By Nina from Where in the World is Nina?

Count the colours at the Caño Cristales ‘Rainbow River’

Red and yellow colours in the Cano Cristales rainbow river in Colombia.

One of the most unique Colombia experiences involves travelling deep into the Parque Nacional Natural Tinigua, accessible from La Macarena where flights to/from Bogota depart thrice weekly.

The Caño Cristales or ‘Crystal Channel’ – also known as the ‘liquid rainbow’ – is a natural phenomenon caused by blooming algae. Macarenia clavigera tinge the river bed and rock formations with hues of yellow, green, blue, black and red, giving the water hole and surrounding rapids an otherworldly appearance.

As well as beautiful waterfalls and rapids, you can observe circular depressions in the river. Known as ‘giant’s kettles’, these are formed by chunks of hard rock that make deep pits.

This amazing landscape can be explored on foot via a number of hiking trails and mirador lookouts that open to visitors at various times of year. To witness the most vivid array of colours, visiting during the rainy season, roughly June to November.

Have a wildlife encounter at the National Colombian Aviary in Baru

A toucan on a tree branch in the wild.

Visiting the National Aviary on Baru Island is one of the best things to do in Colombia with kids. This sprawling wilderness reserve is home to 22 habitats and almost 200 different species of parrots, flamingoes, peacocks and toucans from Colombia and around Latin America.

The aviary is very well set up for tourists, with marked walking trails, shaded rest areas, and regular ranger presentations at the information centre. There are also estuaries and lakes within the park where you can observe other wildlife.

The National Aviary is located on a peninsula under an hour by road from Cartagena. It is open 7 days a week. When visiting, you should also set aside a few hours for the nearby Playa Blanca, a beautiful white-sand beach and the only public swimming area within Rosario National Natural Park.

There are several clubs, resorts and restaurants on the beach where you can hire a sun lounge or grab a seafood lunch.

→ Recommended: Full-day tour Isla Baru for the National Aviary of Colombia and Playa Blanca

Trek in the world’s biggest wax palm forest in Tochecito

A woman stands on a path on a ridge in Tochecito, Colombia, surrounded by green mountains and tall palm trees.

While the Cocora Valley is the most popular place to walk amongst Colombia’s iconic wax palm trees, the protected sanctuary of Tochecito, further south of Salento, is a great alternative.

Like Cocora, Tochecito is home to thousands of the world’s tallest palm trees, some of which reach up to 200 feet (60 metres) tall. Tochecito is an off-the-beaten-track gem and actually has the biggest concentration of wax palm trees in the world.

There are at least 600,000 wax palms in the super-dense forest (compared to the 1,000-2,000 wax palms in the touristic Cocora). While many of the palms in Cocora have been damaged by cattle ranching, the healthy trees in Tochecito can live up to 200 years.

The area is accessible from Salento via an adrenaline-pumping mountain bike ride or by jeep or a trekking tour. After walking through the picturesque alleys of trees, finish the day with a game of tejo in Bar Los Amigos in Salento.

By Ines from Randomtrip

Get off the beaten track in the otherworldly Tatacoa Desert

Amber rock formations and cacti in Colombia's Tatcoa Desert.

Far beyond the major cities of Medellin and Bogota, the wild and remote Tatacoa Desert is definitely an off-the-beaten-track location in Colombia. Bearing some similarities to the Rainbow Mountain in Peru, it is the perfect destination for adventurous travellers looking for a unique hiking experience.

Despite its name, the Tatacoa Desert is not actually a desert – it is a dried-up tropical forest that looks like a desert. To many visitors, it is a landscape from another planet.

The best way to explore is by walking through the Red Desert ( Cuzco ), which offers various trails from where you can spot spiders, snakes, scorpions, lizards and eagles. There are many other creepy crawlies roaming around so you must protect yourself.

Remember the rust-coloured formations are composed of soft soil, not rock, so walking on them is strictly prohibited.

As well as hiking in the Red Desert, you can encounter more otherworldly landscapes with the help of a local guide, including the Grey Desert. Many visitors arrive with a view to camp out so they can do some stargazing during the evenings, and if you’re a space fan, you can visit the Tatacoa Observatory.

Don’t miss the Piscina Mineral, an oasis-like artificial pool where you can cool off amongst the dunes.

By Dan from Urban Abroad

→ Recommended: Private tour to the Tatacoa Desert from Bogota

Stand at the edge of the continent at Punta Gallinas

White sand dunes lead to the ocean at Punta Gallinas, an off the beaten track location in Colombia.

Punta Gallinas, the northernmost point of South America, is located at the end of the rugged desert peninsula of La Guajira on the border of northern Colombia and Venezuela.

Getting there is an adventure in and of itself, and gives you a look at one of the most amazing landscapes in the region. For this reason, it is one of the more unique, adventurous and unusual things to do in Colombia.

It’s possible to arrange tour packages from Cartagena, Santa Marta, Riohacha and other cities on the Caribbean coast. It is also possible to do it mostly on your own.

To do this trip DIY, you’ll need to make your way to the tiny town of Cabo de la Vela in the desert. First, get to the city of Riohacha which can be reached by bus from Cartagena or Santa Marta or by flight from elsewhere in Colombia.

From there, you can take a collective taxi to the town of Uribia before finding 4×4 transportation across the desert to Cabo de la Vela. It’s worth stocking up on things like water in Uribia as they are scarcer and more expensive.

Once in Cabo de la Vela, you should be able to easily arrange a package to Punta Gallinas. Most include transportation, a tour of the surrounding area – including the amazing Taroa Sand Dunes that roll into the sea – overnight accommodations in a chinchorro or handmade hammock made by the local Wayuu Indigenous people, and meals.

Learn more about visiting this unique place in Colombia in this complete travel guide to Punta Gallinas .

→ Recommended: 3-day expedition to Punta Gallinas and Cabo de la Vela

Colombia trip essentials

Here are some of the websites and services I recommend for planning a trip to Colombia. Remember to check out my full list of travel resources for more tips.

FLIGHTS: Find affordable flights to Colombia using the Skyscanner website .

VISAS: Use iVisa to check if you need a tourist visa or a Health Declaration form for Colombia and apply for your documents online.

TRAVEL INSURANCE: Insure your trip to Colombia with HeyMondo , my preferred provider for single-trip and annual travel insurance.

AIRPORT TRANSFERS: Book a safe and reliable private transfer from the airport to your hotel in Medellin , Bogota or Cartagena (prices start from $18 per group).

ESIM FOR COLOMBIA: Stay connected during your trip – pre-purchase an eSIM for Colombia and get online as soon as you arrive without having to visit a phone shop.

CAR HIRE: Use the Discover Cars website to compare prices and features across all the major car rental companies.

ACCOMMODATION: Find the best Colombia hotel deals on Booking.com .

CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: Browse the Viator website to find the best day trips, city tours, Colombian cooking experiences and more.

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Unmasking Colombia’s Hidden Gems: The Best Places to Visit

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Colombia! Just the name conjures up vibrant images of colorful festivals, lush landscapes, and a rhythmic dance between history and modernity.

But, hold up! Isn’t Colombia just about coffee and Cartagena? Think again! With the tourism world shifting its gaze, it’s time to unravel Colombia’s many layers.

Ever wondered why there’s a surge in international tourists flocking to this South American jewel? Here’s a sneak peek:

  • Colombia’s tourism is skyrocketing, ranking as the second fastest growing tourist destination globally.
  • The rich blend of history, landscapes, and culture makes Colombia an unparalleled experience.
  • Cartagena is a top pick, but Colombia’s vastness promises so much more.
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez wasn’t kidding: Colombia is indeed the epitome of magical realism.

Why Colombia Should Be Your Next Getaway

According to the World Tourism Organization, Colombia witnessed a 21.4% rise in international tourists in 2018, making it the second fastest growing tourist destination. But what’s the buzz about?

Diverse Landscapes

Colombia is a geographical marvel, presenting an astounding array of landscapes that seem to evolve with every step you take. Nestled between two oceans, the country unfolds like a live canvas, showcasing nature’s artistry in its purest form.

Begin at the sultry Caribbean coast where the azure waters kiss the golden sands, creating postcard-perfect beaches like Playa Blanca. Venture further in, and the Andean region beckons with its three cordilleras, acting as nature’s formidable fortresses. Here, cities like Medellín and Bogotá perch amidst valleys and plateaus, presenting a juxtaposition of urbanity against green, rolling hills.

Yet, the geographical drama doesn’t end there. The Orinoquía region, also known as the Eastern Plains, stretches into the horizon with vast savannahs, giving you a serene spectacle of seemingly endless grasslands. Contrast this with the Amazon Rainforest in the south, an ecosystem pulsating with life. Its thick canopy, mysterious rivers, and unparalleled biodiversity are a testament to Earth’s wonders.

Then there’s the Pacific coast—wild, rugged, and adorned with dense jungles. Its coastline is a symphony of crashing waves, mangroves, and hidden beaches, making it a haven for those seeking raw, untamed beauty.

Colombia’s landscapes also bear silent testimony to its rich history. The Tatacoa Desert , with its surreal terracotta formations, feels like a page out of a Martian diary. Meanwhile, the ancient terraces of Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City) amidst the Sierra Nevada mountains stand as monuments to pre-Hispanic civilizations.

These varied terrains aren’t just a visual feast; they’re a call to adventure.

Whether you’re trekking through cloud forests, whale-watching on the Pacific coast, or simply gazing at the starlit skies in the desert, Colombia’s diverse landscapes promise an immersion into a world where nature narrates timeless tales.

Cultural Confluence

From the Cumbia and Salsa to the tales of ancient civilizations, Colombia offers a cultural smorgasbord.

As Colombian novelist and Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said,

“Colombia is magical realism… It is the place where you can find everything from the highest peaks in South America, to historical cities that have witnessed the passage of time. “

Warmth of the People

As Kevin Erickson often shares from his extensive travels, Colombian warmth isn’t limited to its climate. From Bogotá to Barranquilla, expect radiant smiles, infectious enthusiasm, and a genuine eagerness to share Colombia’s tales.

Must-Visit Destinations Beyond the Clichés

While most gravitate towards Cartagena —and rightfully so with its UNESCO World Heritage tag and well-preserved colonial architecture— Kevin insists on casting the net wider.

Medellín – The City of Eternal Spring

Forget Pablo Escobar’s Medellín. Today, the city pulses with life, innovation, and festivals.

Check out the Botero Plaza, or swing by Comuna 13, a district that transformed from violence to vibrant street art.

Leticia – Gateway to the Amazon

Where else can you breakfast in Colombia, lunch in Brazil, and dine in Peru?

Leticia, sitting at the tri-border, offers this unique experience. Oh, and there’s the vast Amazon rainforest to explore!

The Coffee Triangle

Kevin’s insider tip: Go beyond the coffee plantations. Hop onto a Willy (traditional jeep) and venture into the Cocora Valley.

And if you’re up for it, indulge in the local delicacy —deep-fried ants!

Unpacking the Colombian Experience

Colombia is a playground for the adventurous spirit. Let the winds carry you as you go paragliding over the vast expanses of Chicamocha Canyon , feeling the exhilaration of soaring above one of the world’s most majestic canyons .

Not high enough for you?

Engage in mountaineering expeditions in the snow-capped peaks of El Cocuy. And if the land isn’t enough, plunge into the azure waters of San Andrés.

Dive deep, exploring colorful coral reefs, interacting with vibrant marine life, or even go shipwreck hunting.

From dense Amazonian treks to surfing along the Pacific coast, every day in Colombia is an opportunity for a new adventure.

The culinary landscape of Colombia is as diverse as its geography. Kevin often raves about Ajiaco, a hearty soup from Bogotá that combines chicken, potatoes, and guascas (a local herb), reflecting the comforting warmth of the highlands.

But that’s just the beginning. Indulge in the rich and flavorsome Bandeja Paisa, a platter that brings together beans, rice, pork, and more in a hearty union.

Don’t forget the Arepas, versatile corn cakes that can be filled, topped, or eaten just as they are.

Colombia also offers a symphony of tropical fruits— lulo, guanábana, passion fruit, and more, ready to tantalize your taste buds in ways you’ve never imagined.

Peeling back the layers of Colombian history is like reading a novel with multiple intriguing chapters.

Every city, every alley, and yes, every brick seems to have a tale to tell.

Explore the ruins of Mompox , a reflection of the grandeur and decline of a significant river port. The cobblestone streets of Cartagena, enclosed by its legendary walls, speak of battles, pirates, and colonial splendor.

Venture to San Agustín, home to mysterious statues and relics from a civilization long gone.

The historical depth of Colombia is vast, and with each step, you become a part of its timeless narrative, connecting with stories of glory, conflict, and resilience.

In Conclusion:

Ah, Colombia! A land that seamlessly interweaves a tapestry of history, culture, adventure, and culinary delights. As the second fastest-growing tourist destination in the world, Colombia is no longer the world’s best-kept secret. It’s emerging as a hotspot that welcomes travelers with its vast landscapes, from the golden beaches of San Andrés to the mystical allure of the Amazon rainforest. As you journey through its terrains, you’ll find that every corner of Colombia resonates with stories, some whispered by the winds of the past and others narrated by the spirited locals with a twinkle in their eyes.

Cartagena’s UNESCO heritage tag is just a primer to the depth of experiences Colombia offers. The gastronomic adventures beckon you to explore beyond the known, urging you to savor flavors that tantalize and comfort in equal measure. And amidst all this, there’s a rhythm—a pulsating beat that stems from its music, dance, and festivals, encapsulating the soul of Colombia.

Traveler and journalist Kevin Erickson’s adventures and anecdotes underline one undeniable fact: Colombia is not just a destination; it’s an emotion. It’s about slowing down to appreciate the intricate details, forging bonds with the ever-welcoming locals, and realizing that true richness lies in experiences, not just sights.

As you pack your bags and set out, remember that Colombia offers more than just tourist spots; it promises memories, tales, and a piece of its soul that you’ll carry back.

So, whether you’re a seasoned traveler or someone taking their first international leap, Colombia is a reminder of why we travel—to discover, to connect, and to be enchanted. Viva Colombia!

Is Colombia safe for tourists?

Absolutely. Like any destination, exercising basic precautions is advised. But Colombia has come a long way and welcomes tourists with open arms.

When is the best time to visit Colombia?

Colombia boasts a year-round tropical climate. However, December to March and July to August are popular due to minimal rainfall.

Any special events or festivals?

Don’t miss the Feria de Cali or the Carnival of Barranquilla! Each city has its unique festivals, often blending indigenous, African, and Spanish traditions.

Which currency is used?

Colombia uses the Colombian Peso (COP). It’s advisable to carry some cash, especially in remote areas.

How about the language barrier?

While Spanish is predominant, many in the tourist industry speak English. A few Spanish phrases, however, can go a long way!

World Tourism Organization UNESCO World Heritage List Works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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One response to “Unmasking Colombia’s Hidden Gems: The Best Places to Visit”

Kevin, your post really resonated with me! Your take on urban gardening is so refreshing. I’ve been nurturing rooftop tomatoes for years, but your suggestion to grow vertical zucchini is a game-changer. Are there specific varieties you’d recommend for a small space? And how do you manage pests in such an environment? I’d love to hear more. Also, folks, if you haven’t tried it yet, do give companion planting a shot! It not only saves space but also boosts yield. Kevin, your insights always make me rethink my approach to gardening. Keep those green thumbs working! 🌱👍

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Worldly Adventurer

The 31 Best Places to Visit in Colombia: Coffee, Coastline and Cloud Forests

By Author Graham Minser

Posted on Last updated: 16th October 2023

Possessing towering mountains and windswept deserts, untouched jungle coastlines and cloud forests, snow-capped active volcanoes and large swathes of Amazonian rainforest, Colombia’s natural setting could not be more dramatic.

It is the second-most bio-diverse country in the world, trailing only its neighbor, Brazil.

While naturally stunning in the countryside, Colombia’s cities buzz with a non-stop energy that merits exploration as well. Set to a soundtrack of salsa, reggaeton, and vallenato music, the country’s major cities are always on the move.

For a long time, Colombia was saddled with an unfortunate reputation for drug trafficking and violence, making the news for all the wrong reasons.

Since the dark days of the mid-1990s, the country has undergone a transformation that has restored it to its rightful place as a thrilling and welcoming travel destination.

A beautiful yellow building in Plaza de Coches.

Colombia has an infectious vigor about it. The cities, beaches, mountains, music, dancing, and welcoming people all beckon you to join in the fun. Ready to jump on that flight? First, discover the best places to visit in Colombia.

Click to navigate this article:

1. Take in the preserved colonial city of Cartagena

Perhaps the perfect place to begin your journey is in one of the original and best-preserved Colombian cities, Cartagena .

Founded nearly five hundred years ago by Spanish conquistadors, the city originally served as a fortress and base for Spanish incursions further inland, then soon after as an economic and political center for the Spanish vice royalty.

Iglesia Santo Domingo at dusk in Cartagena

Nowadays, the former wealth and importance of the city are on full display. A stroll around the old center neighborhoods of El Centro and San Diego reveals many opulent mansions housing restaurants, many of Cartagena’s best boutique hotels , as well as fascinating museums, all restored and brightly painted.

Highlights include the shady Plaza de Bolívar , the lovely Casa de Rafael Nuñez , and the grisly Palacio de la Inquisición , which details the sordid activities of the Spanish Inquisition.

A can’t-miss just east of the center across the lagoon is the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a massive fortress built to protect the city and harbor.

As the midday sun can be quite taxing and there is a lack of shade, we advise visiting early in the morning or around dusk for the most relaxed experience.

In the walled city just south of the center is the neighborhood of Getsemaní. Possessing a more bohemian vibe than the statelier center, this is a great area for evening drinks and nightlife and has many of the city’s hostels.

Colourful umbrellas that cover a street in the neighbourhood of Getsemaní.

The dining scene in Cartagena is exceptional. One should not miss out on the local criolla cuisine, specializing in fresh seafood. Some great places to try include Alma , Doña Lola , and Restaurante Celele .

Nightlife is another big draw in Cartagena. For a rooftop sundowner, enjoy splendid views and cocktails at Mirador .

For those keen on watching or joining in the salsa scene, head over to Donde Fidel or Café Havana . For pumping house, electronic, and reggaeton, try Alquímico .

Discover other unmissable things to do in Cartagena with our comprehensive local guide and check out other activities beyond the Walled City with our article about the best day tours to take from Cartagena .

2. Beat the heat and relax in laid-back Minca

The perfect respite from the bustle of the coastal cities, the mountain village of Minca is home to a mix of locals, emigres from the city, and expats seeking a change of pace.

An up-and-coming travel destination, Minca draws visitors for its organic coffee and chocolate, unparalleled bird-watching opportunities, and cooler temperatures.

The hills of Minca, Colombia are dotted with small coffee plants.

The compact town is a good place to organize your activities, which should include a hike to a waterfall, birdwatching, and a plantation tour to learn about the excellent local coffee and chocolate.

The good people at Jungle Joe will coordinate whatever you are looking to do and have English-speaking guides.

For a relaxing stay, head to the gloriously situated Reserva Natural Tierra Adentro ($82 USD double), with its sweeping views across the valley and resident birdlife (including hummingbirds, parrots, and even peacocks).

A hummingbird sits in a tree in the Reserva Natural Tierra Adentro in Minca

3. Hit the beach at Tayrona National Park

Just east of Santa Marta is the stunning Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona .

Covering a beautiful stretch of forested Caribbean coast under the towering Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Tayrona is dotted with hidden coves and secluded sandy beaches: the perfect escape from civilization.

Beautiful Caribbean coastline of Tayrona National Park

The most popular beach is the beautiful Cabo San Juan del Guía , which has a restaurant and camping site. A more upscale option is to stay at Finca Barlovento , on the beach at Los Naranjos at the east end of the park.

A quieter choice for some time on the beach would be Playa Cristal , which is accessed by boat from nearby Neguange.

Bear in mind when swimming or snorkeling that much of the coastline here has a strong undertow, so be sure to consult with locals about the currents before venturing out too deep.

4. Immerse yourself in a multi-day lost city trek to Ciudad Perdida

One of the great adventures of South America, the four-day trek to and from the fabled Ciudad Perdida is for many the highlight of their holiday.

Known locally as Teyuna, the ‘lost city’ was rediscovered in the 1970s and has since been accessed only on foot and to a limited number of visitors to preserve the site.

The city is thought to have been inhabited between the 11 th and 14 th centuries and housed up to four thousand people.

Rock pathways and scenery surrounding the Ciudad Perdida or Lost City in Colombia.

All guide companies are government-certified and will outfit travelers with the necessary equipment, including camping gear, food, and water. 

We recommend the professional Expotur , whose guides are indigenous and knowledgeable about the archaeological sites and the surrounding region and its peoples.

Tours leave from Santa Marta, and the hike begins at the end of the road in a village on the slopes of the mountains.

Although the trek can be done all year except September – when the site is closed for maintenance – it is advised to make the trip during the dry season, which runs from mid-December through April. Make sure to bring strong mosquito repellent; local brand Nopikex is highly recommended.

5. Explore the remote Guajira peninsula

At the northern tip of the continent, La Guajira has always been a world apart from the rest of the region. Its indigenous people, the Wayuu, were never conquered by the Spanish, and they retain a clear identity of their own.

Their land is one of stunning contrast, framing untamed sand dunes against the deep blue Caribbean which surrounds them. This is a beautiful corner of Colombia, and one ripe for exploration.

Sandboard down the sand dunes at Punta Gallinas in the La Guajira Peninsula, an unmissable place to visit in Colombia

All trips to La Guajira begin in Riohacha, the city gateway to the peninsula. When visiting the region, it is important not to be in a hurry as transport is irregular and can be time-consuming.

Many visitors come for kite surfing, four-wheeling across dunes in the largest Colombian desert, or spotting flamingos at the Santuario de Fauna y Flora los Flamencos .

The northernmost point on the continent is Punta Gallinas, which has perhaps the most beautiful beach in the country, Playa Taroa, sandwiched between the sea and a giant sand dune.

Because tourism is nascent here and few job opportunities exist for the inhabitants of the region, it’s essential to explore La Guajira responsibly. You can do this by taking a four-day tour with Macuira Tours and supporting the Wayuu community directly.

Indigenous-owned, the guides at Macuira Tours really know the region and will give you a fascinating insight into the daily life of those who live in one of the most extreme environments in Colombia. [Read founder Steph’s reporting about how tourism might change the future for the Wayuu of La Guajira ]

6. Get your adrenaline pumping in San Gil

Leaving the north coast, thrill-seekers will revel in visiting San Gil , the adventure sports capital of Colombia. There is no shortage of things to do, as visitors can choose between zip-lining, abseiling, white-water rafting, kayaking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.

The friendly folks at Macondo Hostel can organize any adventure you have in mind and have experienced and friendly guides who have tried all the activities.

An old bridge surrounded by the lush greenery of  Gallineral Park in San Gil, Colombia.

San Gil is also a great place to relax for a few days. On the eastern edge of town is Parque El Gallineral , a wonderful, sprawling reserve on an island in the Río Fonce.

A fifteen-minute drive northeast of town is Pescaderito, a series of five swimming holes on the stream above the village of Curití.

7. Experience Bogotá, one of the continent’s most influential cities

The capital city of Colombia is a microcosm of the entire country. Amidst the hustle and bustle, you’ll find the best food and museums, and see how the city is shaping the future of the nation.

The old center, La Candelaría , sits directly beneath Cerro Montserrate and its shining white church, one of the most famous landmarks of Colombia. It’s also a great starting point for sightseeing in Bogotá.

Although this metropolis of over ten million people has tons of neighborhoods, restaurants, and museums to explore, most of the best places are concentrated in the barrios of La Candelaría and Chapinero.

Bogota is home to colourful communities and buildings

When traveling to Bogotá Colombia, a must-see is the Museo Botero , featuring the art of Medellín-native Fernando Botero as well as works by Picasso, Chagall, and Monet.

Another with excellent exhibits is the Museo de Oro , which has an amazing collection of pre-Columbian gold artifacts.

The capital city of Colombia also represents the cutting-edge of national cuisine. New restaurants in Bogota are opening each year focusing on fresh, local Andean ingredients. For a gastronomic experience, head to Mesa Franca, El Cielo, or the more traditional La Puerta Falsa .

8. Witness the transformation of Medellín, Colombia’s most comfortable city

Many travelers who have watched a certain TV series have gotten the wrong idea about Medellín. But most of them have a very different opinion after spending a few days in Colombia’s second city.

For a start, the climate is ideal, with year-round daytime highs around 28°C (82°F) and lows around 17°C (63°F), meaning it’s always the best time to visit Medellín.

The Medellín cityscape.

Many visitors choose to stay in the Poblado neighborhood, which has many good hostels and restaurants catering to the backpacker set.

Other travelers seeking more local environs opt to stay in the leafy, affluent neighborhoods of Laureles or Belén, each one of the best places to stay in Colombia.

Visitors wishing to know the city’s painful past and subsequent rebirth should visit the Museo Casa de la Memoría , which details the origins of the conflict and individual experiences of those who lived through it or do Impulse Travel’s brilliant We Don’t Talk About Pablo tour [Steph’s note: read my experience of this tour and how it shows Medellin transformation ].

Among the best activities is a full day at Parque Arví , where you can go hiking, bird watching, hire mountain bikes, or have a picnic overlooking Medellín.

Getting there is half the fun, as the park is accessed by a cable car rising high above the city.

A cable car in the Colombian city of Medellin

Visitors looking to eat local should seek out the Bandeja Paísa , a platter heaving with pork, avocado, arepa, rice, beans, eggs, fruit, vegetables, and more pork for good measure.

PaloSanto in Laureles puts out a good rendition of the dish.

9. Visit the Eje Cafétero, Colombia’s prime coffee-growing country

South of Medellín between the three cities of Pereira, Armenia, and Manizales lies the region where your morning cup of coffee may come from.

The Eje Cafétero (Coffee Axis) is set in lush rolling hills beneath the snow-clad Nevado del Ruiz, the volcano that in part makes the region so fertile. The bucolic setting and down-to-earth local population make this one of the best places in Colombia.

Wax palm trees above grassland in the Valle del Cocora in Colombia

Travelers should base themselves in the charming town of Salento, which is nearby the stunning Valle del Cocora , with its cloud forest and iconic wax palm trees.

A trip to the area is of course incomplete without a tour of a local coffee-growing finca (plantation), and we recommend Café Don Manolo outside of Pereira for a tour led by the owner himself or stay overnight at one of the best hotels in Colombia ,  Hacienda Venecia , a coffee farm turned gorgeous guesthouse.

While in Salento, don’t forget to try Colombia’s national game, tejo , in which the player lobs a stone disc at small packets of gunpowder. It goes well with a local beer and is a great way to join in some local fun.

A great way to get around the area is in one of the many classic Willy’s Jeeps that bring locals and tourists alike from town to town.

10. Lose yourself in a well-preserved colonial village

The map of Colombia is dotted with beautiful colonial-era villages that are effectively living museums and should be on everyone’s list of what to see in Colombia.

Colonial buildings in Villa de Leyva, a beautiful and historic place to visit in Colombia

Most of the country is within range of one, with the best examples being Barichara near San Gil, Villa de Leyva north of Bogotá, and Jardín or Santa Fé de Antioquía outside of Medellín. Each has a beguiling charm with a central plaza, stately church, and cobbled streets, surrounded by idyllic mountains, waterfalls and forests.

11. Trek the gorgeous Tatacoa Desert

South of Bogotá and the Eje Cafétero, next to Colombia’s main artery, the Magdalena River, is an unexpected micro-climate.

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled onto the set of a Western film as you walk among the adobe-colored rock formations and spiky cacti of the Tatacoa Desert.

An aerial view of the orange, red and yellow rock in the Tatacoa Desert, Colombia

While here, you can expect to see various bird species, scorpions, and spectacular views of the distant mountains. At night, don’t miss a visit to Observatorio Astrosur , which offers outstanding views of the night sky.

12. Tap into your wild side on the Pacific Coast

While the Caribbean coast is on the well-worn traveler path, the Pacific coastline in the department of Chocó is remote, wild, and largely unpopulated.

Access is difficult and mostly by small, chartered plane, but the rewards for visiting are rich indeed.

Sandy beach and sparkling water in national park natural Utria next to Nuqui, Colombia.

In recent years, more intrepid travelers have found their way to Bahía Solano, El Valle, or Coqui for diving, surfing, and river canoeing, respectively.

Ankla Azul is a professional diving outfit in Bahía Solano and dives regularly sight whale sharks and manta rays. The beach at El Valle has consistent two-meter swells, and good boards are available for hire.

For canoe trips upriver and visits to indigenous communities, make arrangements in the town of Nuquí or the nearby village of Jurubidá .

Make sure to bring rain gear, strong insect repellent, and a mosquito net when visiting the region.

13. Explore the rainforest along the Amazon

A huge portion of Colombia is covered in the Amazonian rainforest, so of course there are opportunities to explore one of the most bio-diverse regions on the planet.

Because much of the Amazon region is remote and security can be an issue, travelers must base their jungle adventures out of Leticia , in the southeast corner of the country along the border with Peru and Brazil. Access is by plane from Bogotá or boat from Peru or Brazil.

Fog covering the Amazon rain forest by Leticia in Colombia.

Within the small city of Leticia are the only trappings of civilization in the region, and you may wish to visit the wonderful Mundo Amazónico gardens to learn about the local flora and fauna before beginning your trek.

Amazon Jungle Trips comes highly recommended, with over thirty years of experience and English-speaking guides.

Leticia is also the place to organize trips into the hinterland. Amazon Jungle Trips can arrange expeditions to the outstanding Parque Nacional Natural Amacayacu , one of the best South American tourist destinations. There are very few roads here, so nearly all transport is by boat.

14.  Get down to the rhythm of Cali

Colombia’s third-largest city, Cali is synonymous with salsa, the driving beat of southwestern Colombia. Temperatures are hotter than in Bogota and Medellin, and the favorite local pastime is to dance away the warm evenings till dawn in any of the salsa bars or clubs found around town.

Salsa dancing in Cali, Colombia, is a popular past-time with locals, who spend their warm evenings in any of the numerous salsa bars or clubs found in the town.

Although it’s tough to recommend a single place in this salsa-obsessed city, for a taste of real salsa caleña you should head to La Topa Tolondra or Malamaña Salsa Bar . Settle in for an aguardiente or rum before joining in the fun. If visiting in June, don’t miss the weeklong annual Feria de Cali which features some of the world’s top salsa bands and dance shows.

During the day, don’t miss the historic Plaza de Caicedo in the historic center, as well as the leafy Parque Simon Bolivar along the Cali River.

15. Discover the ancient heritage of the pre-columbian San Agustin civilization

One of South America’s lesser-known yet compelling archaeological sites is growing in popularity for its remarkable megalithic sculptures and burial grounds. A Unesco World Heritage Site since 1995, the San Agustin Archaeological Park has the world’s largest known necropolis.

The necropolis of Unesco World Heritage Site San Agustin Archaeological Park.

Inhabited between 0 and 400CE, the San Agustin civilization predated the Inca by a millennium. It wasn’t until the mid-18 th century that the site was rediscovered due to its remote location. San Agustin is located a three-and-a-half-hour drive southeast from Popayán in the south of the country.

16. Trek across jungle mountains to limestone caves at Cueva de los Guácharos National Park

An hour south of San Agustin is another of Colombia’s less-visited gems, the Cueva de los Guácharos National Park . Its namesake is the brown, nocturnal bird that inhabits the gorgeous limestone caves within the park.

The limestone caves at Cueva de los Guácharos National Park, one of Colombia's less-visited gems

An amazing experience for the intrepid hiker, the park is best visited on a two-day trek through cloud forest from the town of Palestina on a guided tour through Baquíanos .

For more on Colombia’s natural splendor, check out our extensive guide to its best national parks .

17. Camp and ride horses in the shadow of an active volcano at Galeras Sanctuary

Further south, approaching the frontier with Ecuador, is the spectacular Santuario de Fauna y Flora Galeras (Galeras Animal and Plant Sanctuary). Sitting above the city of Pasto, this wildlife refuge boasts crater lakes, cloud forest, and wildlife generally found further south in Ecuador and Peru.

Horseback riding at Santuario de Fauna y Flora Galeras, home to the active Galeras Volcano

The park is home to the active Galeras Volcano (last eruption 2010), and although the peak is closed to climbers, Ecoglobal Expeditions can arrange multi-day camping trips with horseback riding.

18. Plan an adventure in Colombia’s cowboy country at Tuparro National Park

One of Colombia’s most remote areas, Tuparro National Park is located in the east of the country where the rain forest makes way for the plains of Los Llanos further north. This is a land of extremes, where the dry season sees scorching temperatures and endless prairie land, and the rainy season inundates much of the region for months at a time.

Capybaras are visible on the banks and in the waters of the Orinoco River, located in the Tuparro National Park.

Many locals still rely on horses for their livelihood, and it’s a great place to spend some time in the saddle seeking some of the area’s amazing wildlife. In this tough but starkly beautiful land, you can expect to spot peccaries, armadillos, and tapirs, as well as caymans and capybaras in the Orinoco River.

19. Journey far off-grid to the untouched rain forests of Guaviare

A large portion of Colombia is covered in old-growth rainforest, and while many visitors choose the more popular Amacayu National Park, more travelers are discovering the stupendous Guaviare region as an alternative that sees fewer tourists.

The gateway of San José del Guaviare, the entry to the untouched rain forests of Guaviare.

From the gateway of San José del Guaviare , visitors can sign up for tours up and down the Guaviare River where you can swim with river dolphins, or into the interior for waterfalls and pools, ancient cave paintings, amazing bird-watching, and prime hiking trails through ancient forests. Although intrepid travelers can do this trip on their own, we recommend maximizing your time and benefiting from local expertise with locally-run Geo Tours .

20. Go whitewater rafting with ex-insurgents in Caquetá

It may strike you as a dicey prospect, but one of the best adventures to be had in Colombia is led by people once armed and opposed to the national government. Fear not, however, as the landmark peace agreement between Bogotá and the FARC insurgency has done wonders for national security and given rise to eco-tourism in areas once off-limits to travelers.

Whitewater rafting with ex-insurgents in Caquetá is one of the best things to do in Colombia

A prime example is the whitewater rafting tour led by Impulse Travel , a local tour operator dedicated to sustainable tourism while supporting the communities formerly engrossed in the decades-long insurgency.

As for the rafting, it’s among the best to be found in South America. Tours run down the Pato River in the remote Caquetá region, and visitors shouldn’t miss the Museo Local de la Memoría Histórica (Local Museum of Historical Memory) in the village of Miravalle, which offers insight into the past conflict and the region’s subsequent transformation.

21. Make the trek through mountains and jungle to Caño Cristales

Offering an amazing variety of mountain, jungle, and plain habitat, La Serranía de la Macarena National Park is one of Colombia’s wildest corners. Its most famous draw is the pink-hued Caño Cristales River , which gets its color from a riverweed native to the region.

The pink-colored Cano Cristales river, also known as 'The River of Five Colors' and the 'Liquid Rainbow'.

To make the most of your trip, go with Palenque Tours , who offer epic four-day trips to the park. Along the way, you will visit waterfalls and natural pools, spot local wildlife, and stay with local families in the village of La Macarena.

22. Explore Colombia’s lowland jungles and highland plains in Los Yariguíes

Between the low-lying jungle and the snow-capped peaks of the Andes Mountains, Los Yariguíes National Park offers an unparalleled variety of ecosystems, flora, and fauna. This park covers a total elevation range of 2700 meters (9000 feet) from sultry river valleys to wide expanses of high plains with icy blue lakes.

Los Yariguíes National Park has some of the country's most spectacular flora and fauna on show - including the Long-tailed Sylph Hummingbird

If you’re looking to fit in Colombia’s highlands and jungles into a single trek, this could be your best bet. We recommend Asocapayari , a local tour outfit that supports sustainable eco-tourism and the local community.

23. Spend a few days above the clouds in El Cocuy

The most epic of Colombia’s highland treks, El Cocuy National Park features the best of Colombia’s high-altitude landscapes, flora, and fauna. Keen hikers will relish the ridgeline paths and wide open expanse in Colombia’s central mountain range.

Beautiful view of El Cocuy National Park , Colombia, South America. Keen hikers consider this to be one of the best places to visit in Colombia.

Above the treeline, the windswept tundra is home to eagles and spectacled bears, and there are great opportunities for camping for those so inclined. Living Col offers guided treks to El Cocuy, lasting either 3 or 4 days.

24. Take in Colombia’s best vista at Guatapé

Two hours east of Medellín is one of Colombia’s most popular attractions: Guatapé and the massive lake adjacent. Many local paisas come here to enjoy a day on the water, and visitors can take their pick from boat tours, sailing, kayaking, wakeboarding, waterskiing, or jet skiing.

A panoramic view of the El Peñól rock overlooking the lake

The must-see attraction at Guatapé is the view from atop El Peñól , a massive rock towering over the lake. There’s a cafe at the top where you can sip a coffee with an unbeatable view.

While you’re here, check out our guide to the most beautiful lakes in South America .

25. Reimagine Colombia’s colonial past at Mompox

Among the most atmospheric towns in South America, Santa Cruz de Mompox is a beautifully-preserved colonial town in the marshy lowlands of Northern Colombia. The town center is a Unesco World Heritage Site and features stately villas and churches brightly painted and immaculately preserved.

The yellow and white plaza and market in Unesco World Heritage Site, Mompox in Colombia.

The town is quite remote but sits at a strategic point on the Magdalena River which connects the center of the country to the northern coast. Many who visit do so to imagine the fictional town of Macondo from Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude .

26. Join in the Carnival fun in Barranquilla

At the mouth of the Magdalena River on the Caribbean coast is Colombia’s largest port city, Barranquilla . Although generally regarded as a workaday city, Barranquilla comes alive every February for South America’s second-most popular celebration of Carnival .

Colorful floats on display at Barranquilla's Carnival, South America's second most-popular carnival celebration.

As you might be able to tell by its native daughter, Shakira, the city lives and breathes music. Everywhere you go you’ll hear anything from salsa and vallenato to reggaeton. The African influence on the local music and Carnival celebration is apparent, and along with Cali the city is one of the best places in South America to dance the night away.

27. Discover Colombia’s African roots in La Boquilla

For a good look into Colombia’s African heritage, and especially how it has shaped its music, head just north along the coast from Cartagena to La Boquilla . This beachside community is the birthplace of cumbia , Colombia’s national dance.

Colombia's national dance, cumbia, relies heavily on a rhythm produced by traditional drums.

For a deeper dive into cumbia, take a daylong tour to learn how traditional drums are made, the rhythm that drives the dance, and join in on a jam session on the beach.

28. See bioluminescent plankton at Playa Blanca, Isla Barú

If you’re after an otherworldy experience, don’t miss seeing the glowing blue plankton after the sun sets at Playa Blanca. Although nominally an island, Isla Barú is in fact a peninsula that juts out into the Caribbean just south of Cartagena.

Beach huts on Isla Barú in Colombia - known for bioluminescent plankton. One of the best places to visit in Colombia, especially at night, make sure to build a trip here into your Colombia itinerary.

Not only can you easily spot them from the beach, but you can swim amongst the plankton for a one-of-a-kind experience. For a tour of the peninsula followed by a visit to the beach after dark, contact Las Islas .

29. Find your beach and diving paradise at San Bernardo

Further south of Cartagena is the picture-perfect archipelago of San Bernardo. Lacking the hordes of tourists of the neighboring Rosario islands, this is the place to kick back and enjoy the beach.

A tiny island in the Caribbean Archipelago San Bernardo near Tolu, Colombia

The clear, turquoise waters surrounding the islands are great for snorkeling and diving, and both reef and wreck dives are possible. Agenda del Mar can make all arrangements for your dive.

For more on all the great activities nearby Cartagena, check out our guide .

30. Get your fill of sun and sand on San Andrés

A fair distance north of the coast in the Caribbean are two islands isolated from the rest of Colombia, San Andrés and Providencia. The former of these is one of the country’s premier destinations for both Colombians and foreign tourists.

Popular with locals and tourists alike, San Andrés Island Bay is known for its turquoise waters and fresh seafood. San Andrés Island Bay is arguably one of the best places to visit in Colombia.

On San Andrés , visitors can choose from all sorts of activities, from snorkeling Johnny Cay and reef diving to kayaking through mangroves and soaking up the sun. Although the island can be overrun by local tourists (especially on weekends and holidays), the turquoise waters and fresh seafood are among the draws that make it worth your trip.

31. Chill out on Providencia, a quiet Caribbean gem

While San Andrés gets the crowds, its neighboring island Providencia sees fewer visitors and has a more laid-back vibe. While it takes a bit more time and effort to reach (you can fly or take a three-hour catamaran from San Andrés).

Healthy coral reef and colorful tropical fish in the waters of Colombia

Unlike in most of the country, locals generally speak English (English Creole is still the mother tongue here), and you won’t have to queue up to explore the pristine beaches, reefs, and hiking trails found here. Don’t miss the panoramic view from The Peak in the center of the island.

FAQs about Colombia

1. where is colombia.

Colombia occupies the northwest corner of South America, just south of Panama and north of Peru, with extensive coastline on both the Caribbean and the Pacific. It’s a two- or three-hour flight south from Miami and covers a wide range of climatic zones, from deserts and reef-fringed coasts in the north to endless wetlands in the center; rolling farmlands in the heartland and endless tracts of untouched rain forest, all crisscrossed by three parallel ridges of the Andes mountains.

For more information on the best places in Colombia, check out our Colombia travel guid e , filled with itineraries for every traveler.

2. Can I travel to Colombia right now?

Yes! Colombia is open to travelers from most countries, and all destinations are open to tourism with bio-security regulations in place, while visitors are required to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Tourism numbers remain reduced compared with pre-pandemic, meaning it’s actually the best time to visit Colombia .

3. Is traveling to Colombia safe?

For travelers who practice common sense, Colombia is a safe place to visit. Avoid being a target by being discreet with valuables such as phones, watches, and money, and take taxis directly to your destination when out after dark. Some areas in the big cities of Colombia experience violent crime, but travelers rarely find themselves in these neighborhoods.

4. Which places should I avoid in Colombia?

Since the end of the civil war and the disbanding of the paramilitary FARC, national security has improved dramatically. That said, there are still insurgents in remote corners of the country. Tourists almost never encounter trouble, as these groups are based deep in the jungle far from civilization.

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Best Places to Visit in Colombia: Must-See Destinations

Posted by Journey Index | Aug 15, 2023 |

Welcome to an exciting journey through Colombia’s most captivating destinations and activities. In this guide, we’ll unveil the best places to visit in Colombia, offering a blend of rich cultural heritage, stunning landscapes, and thrilling adventures. Whether you’re drawn to vibrant cities, lush rainforests, or historic sites, Colombia has it all. Let’s delve into the must-see locations and experiences that make this South American gem a truly unforgettable travel destination.

1. Bogota: A Bustling Metropolis with a Rich Cultural Heritage

Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia, is a vibrant metropolis that seamlessly blends modernity with its rich cultural heritage. The city offers a plethora of attractions, from towering skyscrapers to charming colonial neighborhoods. Stroll through the historic district of La Candelaria, where colorful buildings and cobblestone streets transport you back in time. Don’t miss the iconic Plaza de Bolívar, the heart of Bogotá, surrounded by important landmarks like the imposing Capitolio Nacional and the stunning Primatial Cathedral of Bogotá.

The Unforgettable Museo del Oro: A Golden Journey through History

For history buffs, a visit to the Museo del Oro is a must. This world-renowned museum houses an extensive collection of pre-Columbian gold artifacts, offering a fascinating glimpse into the country’s ancient civilizations. Marvel at the intricate craftsmanship of golden masks and jewelry, and learn about the myths and legends surrounding these precious objects. This museum is a true gem that showcases the richness and diversity of Colombia’s cultural heritage.

2. Cartagena: Where Colonial Charm Meets Caribbean Beauty

Imagine walking through narrow streets adorned with colorful colonial buildings, surrounded by the gentle sea breeze of the Caribbean. Welcome to Cartagena, a city that exudes charm and beauty like no other. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a true architectural masterpiece, with its well-preserved fortifications and stunning plazas. Lose yourself in the enchanting maze of the walled city, where every corner reveals a hidden gem, whether it be a vibrant street mural or a quaint café.

Unveiling the Secrets of Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

An iconic symbol of Cartagena’s colonial past, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is a fortress perched atop a hill, providing breathtaking panoramic views of the city and the Caribbean Sea. Explore the maze-like tunnels and learn about the ingenious military strategies that protected the city from invaders. As you climb to the top, feel the weight of history on your shoulders and appreciate the beauty and resilience of this architectural marvel.

3. Medelliin: From Notorious Past to Thriving Modernity

Medellin, once plagued by violence and notorious drug cartels, has undergone a dramatic transformation to become one of Colombia’s most progressive and innovative cities. Explore the city’s charming neighborhoods, from the bustling El Poblado with its trendy restaurants and vibrant nightlife to the bohemian enclave of Laureles, where you can soak in the local culture and art scene.

Discover the Treasures of Plaza Botero

No visit to Medellin is complete without a visit to Plaza Botero, named after the renowned Colombian artist Fernando Botero. This open-air museum showcases Botero’s larger-than-life sculptures, featuring his signature style of exaggerated figures. Take a moment to appreciate these whimsical creations and engage with the art that reflects the vibrancy and creativity of the city.

4. The Coffee Cultural Landscape: Nature’s Paradise

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and immerse yourself in the breathtaking landscapes of the Coffee Cultural Landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This region is renowned for its lush coffee plantations, picturesque towns, and verdant valleys. Visit the charming town of Salento, nestled in the heart of Colombia’s coffee region, and embark on a coffee tour to learn about the intricate process of producing the world’s finest coffee.

Los Nevados National Natural Park: A Hiker’s Paradise

If you crave adventure and breathtaking natural landscapes, don’t miss the opportunity to explore Los Nevados National Natural Park. This protected area is home to several snow-capped volcanoes and provides awe-inspiring hiking trails. As you traverse through the park, be mesmerized by the rugged beauty of its glaciers, páramos, and unique flora and fauna. It’s truly a haven for nature enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers.

5. The Caribbean Coast: Sun, Sand, and Culture

No article about Colombia would be complete without mentioning the stunning Caribbean coast. With its pristine white-sand beaches, crystal-clear waters, and vibrant coastal towns, this region is a paradise for beach lovers and culture enthusiasts alike.  The best time to visi t Colombia depends on your specific preferences and the regions you plan to explore, as Colombia’s diverse geography and climate can vary greatly.

Tayrona National Natural Park: Where Jungle Meets the Sea

Tayrona National Natural Park is a tropical paradise where dense jungles meet the shimmering turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Hike through lush trails, encounter exotic wildlife, and bask in the beauty of secluded beaches. Unplug from the world and immerse yourself in the tranquility of this natural gem, where the rhythmic sound of crashing waves lulls you into a state of bliss.

6. San Andres and Providencia: Caribbean Islands of Serenity

For those seeking a secluded and idyllic island getaway, San Andrés and Providencia are heaven on earth. These remote Caribbean islands offer pristine beaches, coral reefs teeming with marine life, and a laid-back atmosphere that invites you to slow down and soak in the beauty of your surroundings.

Swim in the Enchanting Waters of Johnny Cay

Located just off the coast of San Andrés, Johnny Cay is a small, uninhabited island with powdery white sands and crystal-clear waters. Snorkel amongst vibrant coral reefs, bask in the sun, and indulge in fresh seafood while enjoying the picture-perfect views. Johnny Cay is the epitome of paradise and a place you’ll never want to leave.

Find Your Adventure in Colombia: The Best Activities to Try

1. embark on a thrilling trek to the lost city.

Journey deep into the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains and discover the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida), an ancient archaeological site that predates Machu Picchu. Trek through dense jungles, cross rivers, and climb steep stairs as you uncover the mysteries of this sacred place. This challenging adventure promises not only physical exertion but also a deep connection with Colombia’s indigenous cultures and an awe-inspiring experience.

Important Tip: Proper Gear and Preparation

Top things to do in colombia embarking on this trek, ensure you have the appropriate gear, including comfortable hiking shoes, insect repellent, and lightweight clothing. Don’t forget to stay hydrated and bring snacks to keep your energy up throughout the journey. A good level of fitness is essential, as the trek can be physically demanding.

2. Dive into the Underwater Wonderland of Malpelo Island

For diving enthusiasts, Malpelo Island is a dream come true. Located in the Pacific Ocean, this remote and uninhabited island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with remarkable biodiversity. Dive into its crystal-clear waters and encounter schools of hammerhead sharks, manta rays, and a plethora of other marine species. The underwater world of Malpelo Island is a true spectacle that will leave you in awe.

Stay Safe: Dive with Certified Operators

When diving on Malpelo Island, safety should be your utmost priority. Ensure you choose a reputable diving operator with certified instructors and well-maintained equipment. It’s also important to follow responsible diving practices to preserve the delicate marine ecosystem of this pristine island.

3. Get Your Adrenaline Pumping with Paragliding in Bucaramanga

If you’re an adventure seeker, Bucaramanga, the “City of Parks,” offers an exhilarating paragliding experience. Soar through the skies and marvel at the breathtaking landscapes below as the wind carries you. Whether you’re a seasoned paragliding enthusiast or a first-time flyer, this adrenaline-pumping activity will give you a unique perspective of Colombia’s stunning natural beauty.

Choose Safety First: Certified Instructors and Equipment

Before taking flight, ensure you choose a reputable paragliding company with experienced instructors and well-maintained equipment. Follow their instructions carefully and prioritize safety at all times. Don’t forget to capture the moment with a GoPro or a camera securely strapped to yourself to document this thrilling adventure.

4. Experience the Magic of the Amazon Rainforest

Embark on an unforgettable journey into the Amazon rainforest, one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Immerse yourself in nature and explore the lush jungles, encounter exotic wildlife, and learn from indigenous communities about their traditional way of life. Whether you opt for a guided tour or a river cruise, the Amazon will leave you with a deep appreciation for the wonders of the natural world.

Responsible Travel: Support Sustainable Tourism Practices

When visiting the Amazon, it’s crucial to prioritize sustainable and responsible travel practices. Choose tour operators and accommodations that are committed to minimizing their impact on the environment and supporting local communities. Respect the delicate ecosystem by following guidelines such as not disturbing wildlife and properly disposing of waste.

5. Indulge Your Taste Buds with a Gastronomic Journey

Colombian cuisine is a delightful fusion of flavors influenced by indigenous, African, and Spanish culinary traditions. Embark on a gastronomic journey and savor mouthwatering dishes such as bandeja paisa, a generous platter of beans, rice, meat, and plantains, or arepas, cornmeal patties stuffed with cheese, meat, or eggs. Don’t forget to pair your meals with a cup of delicious Colombian coffee, known for its exceptional quality and taste.

Unmissable Delicacy: Ajiaco, a Hearty Colombian Soup

One dish that should not be missed during your culinary adventure in Colombia is ajiaco, a traditional Colombian soup. This hearty dish consists of chicken, corn, potatoes, and a tantalizing mix of herbs and spices. It’s the perfect comfort food, especially on a chilly day. Each region adds its own unique twist to this dish, making it a culinary delight worth savoring.

Conclusion: Unleash the Magic of Colombia

Finally, Colombia is a country that never fails to captivate and enchant its Best Places to Visit. From the vibrant streets of Bogotá to the colonial charm of Cartagena, from the coffee-scented valleys to the breathtaking Caribbean coast, this diverse nation offers a myriad of experiences that cater to every traveler’s desires. Whether you’re seeking cultural immersion, thrilling adventures, or simply a moment of relaxation in paradise, Colombia has it all. So pack your bags, embrace the unknown, and let Colombia bewitch you with its irresistible charm. For more, visit JourneyIndex .

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LivingOutLau

21 Famous Landmarks in Colombia: Natural + Historical

There are many landmarks in Colombia that attract visitors from all over the world, thanks to its rich heritage, blending pot of cultures, and interesting geographical location.

From the snow-capped peaks of the Andes Mountains to the steamy jungles of the Amazon, this country is full of natural and historical wonders. In addition, there are many ancient ruins and colonial towns that testify to Colombia’s rich history.

Without further ado, here are the 21 most famous Colombia landmarks! We’ll give you a map near the end of the article where you can save this list and use it to plan your Colombia itinerary!

What Are The Most Famous Colombia Landmarks?

1. cocora valley.

Valle-de-Cocora-Salento-1

Cocora Valley is one of the most famous natural landmarks in Colombia. It’s a lush and verdant valley located in the heart of the country’s coffee region, near the town of Salento . The main attraction here is the towering wax palm trees, the world’s tallest palm trees, which can grow up to 60 meters (200 feet) tall!

Visitors can take a hike through the valley to admire the stunning scenery or go on a horseback ride to explore the area further. Note that the Cocora Valley hike is quite a strenuous one and it takes about 4 to 5 hours to complete.

However, hikers are rewarded with incredible panoramic views of the valley and its majestic palm trees. If you’re visiting Colombia, Cocora Valley is definitely one of the landmarks you shouldn’t miss!

2. Tayrona National Park

Tayrona-National-Park-2

With its soaring palm trees swaying on the shores of the finest Caribbean beaches, Tayrona National Park is one of the most beautiful places in Colombia. Located on the country’s Caribbean Coast, it is a place where the Sierra Nevada rainforest meets the beach and where a huge number of plants and animal species call home.

The park has a number of hiking trails which lead to different campsites and beaches. The most popular beach is Cabo San Juan , which has turquoise waters and a sandy beach.

Its most iconic feature is a watchtower that juts in the sea, and visitors looking for a unique experience can rent one of the hammocks there overnight. Listening to the waves of the sea as you drift to sleep is something you won’t soon forget.

But Tayrona National Park is not only about beaches and relaxation. The park is also home to the indigenous tribes descended from the Tairona people, who have managed to preserve their traditional way of life. It is truly one of the most interesting places in Colombia.

3. Zipaquira Salt Cathedral

Zipaquira-Salt-Cathedral

If you are talking about architecture, the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral has to be the most epic landmark in Colombia. It’s a Roman Catholic church that was built inside a salt mine near the city of Zipaquira, about an hour’s drive from Bogota. In 2007, it was designated as the First Wonder of Colombia.

The church is located 200 meters (660 feet) below ground level and it features three naves, each representing different parts of the Christian faith. The main nave is home to the largest underground cross in the world.

The walls and ceilings are adorned with beautiful salt sculptures and the overall effect is simply breathtaking. During religious holidays, the Zipaquira Salt Cathedral is filled with people attending mass. It is estimated that the place can hold around 10,000 people!

4. El Penon del Guatape (Guatape Rock)

Penon de Guatape

El Penon del Guatape, or Guatape Rock, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Colombia. It’s a gigantic monolith located just on the outskirts of the town of Guatape, about two hours from Medellin. The rock is over 200 meters (650 feet) high and it offers stunning views of the surrounding area.

To get to the top of the rock, you have to climb a staircase of over 650 steps. But don’t worry, there are plenty of rest stops along the way so you can catch your breath. Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with views of greenery and the crystal clear water of Guatape Reservoir.

Keep in mind that the staircase can be quite crowded, especially on weekends or any Colombian holidays, so it’s best to go early in the morning. You do not want to be stuck on that small staircase!

5. Comuna 13

Colombia-Itinerary-Comuna-13

Comuna 13 used to be one of the most dangerous places in Medellin. In fact, in 1993, TIME said that Medellin is the most dangerous city in the world, and at the heart of all the violence and crime is Comuna 13.

But thanks to a community-led urban regeneration project, it is now one of the coolest places in the city.

The area is home to a number of street art murals, which were painted by local artists as part of the regeneration project. The murals depict the struggles of the community and they tell the stories of the darkest moments in Colombian history.

This famous neighborhood in Colombia is no longer what it was in the past, and is now home to tons of hip cafes and restaurants. When visiting, make sure you go with a local guide from the area so you can get a firsthand recount of the tales.

6. Tatacoa Desert

Tatacoa-Desert-min

The Tatacoa Desert is one of the most unique landscapes in Colombia. It’s located in the department of Huila, about six hours from Bogota. The desert is made up of red and grey soil, and it looks otherworldly.

There are a number of different hiking trails in the Tatacoa Desert, and you can even go on horseback rides. The best time to visit is during the dry season (January to March), when the temperatures are more bearable.

At night, the Tatacoa Desert turns into one of the best places in Colombia for stargazing. The sky is so clear that you can see constellations with your naked eye. Who knows? You might even see a shooting star!

7. Caño Cristales

Cano Cristales Colombia

Caño Cristales is often called the “River of Five Colors” or the “Liquid Rainbow.” It’s located in the Serrania de la Macarena National Park, about four hours from Bogota.

The river gets its colors from macarenia clavigera , an endemic river plant that needs the ideal conditions to live and give off its colors. The best time to see the colors is between June and December, when the water flow is higher and the colors are more vibrant.

During this time, the river is a beautiful shade of yellow, green, blue, red, and orange. The Serrania de la Macarena National Park is also a beautiful national park full of exotic flora and fauna. In fact, many scientists consider it to be one of the richest wildlife reserves on Earth.

8. Lost City (Ciudad Perdida)

Ciudad Perdida Lost City Colombia

The Lost City, or Ciudad Perdida, is one of the most famous historical landmarks in Colombia. It’s an ancient city that was built by the Tairona people over a thousand years ago. The city is located in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains near Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

To reach the Lost City, you have to go on a four-day trek through the jungle. Combined with the humidity and weather of this Caribbean region of Colombia, the trek is quite gruesome.

But along the way, you’ll pass by waterfalls, rivers, and stunning scenery. You’ll also get to meet the local indigenous people who live in the area. This iconic Colombia trek is both a cultural and a physical experience, and it can be compared to the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu in Peru!

9. Monserrate Mountain

Bogota-Monserrate

Monserrate Mountain is one of the most famous landmarks in Bogota. The mountain is home to a 17th-century church, which can be reached by either taking a cable car or hiking up the mountain.

Situated 133 meters above the city of Bogota, the views from Monserrate Mountain are absolutely stunning. On a clear day, you can see all of Bogota from the top. The best time to visit is at sunset. Though it’ll be crowded, visitors can see all of the lights in Bogota turn on at once and watch the city come to life.

If you’re up for a challenge, you can try to hike up one of the trails that lead to the top of Monserrate Mountain. But be warned, it’s a tough hike, especially with the high altitude that Bogota is known to have.

10. Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

Cartagena-San-Felipe-Castle

The fortress of Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Cartagena and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Cartagena .

Cartagena was a vital trading port in colonial times. To protect against pirates and other invaders, the fortress was built by the Spanish in 1536. The castle is perched on a hill overlooking the city of Cartagena, and it has a stunning view of the Caribbean Sea.

Inside the fortress, there are a number of different tunnels and chambers that were used by soldiers to navigate the castle. Visitors can explore them and get a feel of life in the castle back then. You can also climb to the top of one of the towers for an even better view.

As one of the most impressive fortification systems of Cartagena, visiting Castillo San Felipe de Barajas is one of the best things to do in Colombia.

11. Walled City Of Cartagena

Cartagena-1

The Walled City of Cartagena is one of the most stunning places to visit in Colombia. The city is full of colonial Spanish architecture, has a beautiful Caribbean coastline, and is home to a number of different historical landmarks.

One of the most impressive things about the Walled City is its fortifications. The Spanish King Philips III ordered the walls to be built after a pirate attack from the infamous Sir Francis Drake in 1614. The walls are as tall as 12 meters high in some places and stretch for about 11 kilometers.

There are a number of different gates that lead into the Walled City, but the most famous one is Puerta del Reloj, or Clock Tower Gate. This gate is located in the center of the Walled City and is one of the most photographed landmarks in Colombia.

Inside the Walled City, visitors are likely to bump into Palenqueras , a group of women that were the first free black slaves in the Americas. If you’re interested in Colombian history, then make sure you add the Walled City of Cartagena to your itinerary.

12. Las Lajas Sanctuary

Las-Lajas-Sanctuary-Ipiales

Las Lajas Sanctuary is a hidden gem and one of the most beautiful places in Colombia. It is located in Ipiales, a small town in the Andes Mountains in Southwestern Colombia, just on the border with Ecuador.

The sanctuary was built in 1754 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is said that she appeared to a woman who was hiding in the Guáitara River Canyon with her child during a heavy storm.

The sanctuary is a popular pilgrimage site for Catholics and is considered one of the most beautiful churches in the world.

The church is built into the Guáitara River canyon and over a river. The bridge that connects one side of the canyon to the church is jaw-dropping and comparable to some of the most beautiful castles in Europe.

Along with an interior that is decorated with stained glass windows and marble columns, Las Lajas Sanctuary is certainly a must-visit place in Colombia.

13. The Coffee Triangle

Mirador Del Tiempo Detenido Filandia Colombia

The Coffee Triangle is one of the most famous regions in Colombia. It is located in the central-western part of the country, between the cities of Armenia, Pereira, and Manizales.

Thanks to the temperature climate, rich soil, and plenty of precipitation, the region produces some of the best coffee in the world. Colombian coffee farmers have also perfected the art of growing and processing them, a skill that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Colombian coffee beans are also 100% Arabica, which is the superior type of coffee bean known for its richer and smoother flavor profile. But since most coffee beans are exported out of the country for more profit, you need to visit a coffee plantation to sample the country’s best coffee.

Here you can also learn about the process of making coffee from bean to cup, and of course, drink plenty of delicious Colombian coffee.

14. Cerro Azul Cave Paintings

Cerro-Azul-Paintings

Cerro Azul is one of the most famous archaeological sites in Colombia. It is located in the Serranía de la Lindos Mountains of the Guaviare Department, a remote place that should only be visited by those prepared for a long and rough commute.

The site consists of a large rock shelter with over hundreds of paintings, which date back to over a thousand years ago in the pre-Columbian era. The paintings depict a variety of animals, including jaguars, snakes, llamas, humans, and give visitors a glimpse of the people that once lived here.

The Cerro Azul cave paintings are believed to be one of the oldest examples of rock art in South America and are an important part of Colombia’s cultural heritage.

15. San Agustin Archaeological Park

San Agustin Archaeological Park Colombia

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of San Agustin Archaeological Park is home to the biggest religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America.

Located in San Agustin of Huila Department, the park consists of several archaeological sites containing ruins of the pre-Columbian San Augustin culture, one that dates back to the 4th BCE!

The main purpose of the site is for burial, and with 116 hectares in area, it is considered the world’s largest necropolis!

If you want to see some of the most famous monuments in Colombia and a cultural landmark in South America , make sure you head to San Agustin Archaeological Park!

16. The Islands of San Andres and Providencia

San-Andres-Island-Colombia

If you are looking for the best beaches in Colombia, then the Caribbean islands of San Andres and Providencia are where you need to go. Though part of Colombia, the islands are closer to Nicaragua.

San Andres is the larger of the two islands and is a popular tourist destination with its white sandy beaches and clear blue waters that are perfect for snorkeling. It is a still small island, so visitors can hire a Golf Buggy and go from attraction to attraction.

Providencia, on the other hand, is more low-key with a focus on eco-tourism. It’s perfect for those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy nature.

No matter which island you choose, you’re going to love the beautiful weather of these tropical islands and the glistening waters of the Caribbean Sea!

17. Chicamocha Canyon

Chicamocha-Canyon-colombia

If you are looking for natural landmarks in Colombia, head to Chichamocha Canyon. Located in the Santander Department of Colombia, it is one of the best places to visit in the nearby town of San Gil .

The Canyon is known as the second largest canyon in the world, with an area of 108,000 hectares (270,000 acres), a maximum depth of 2,000 meters (6,600 ft), and a length of 227 kilometers (141 mi).

Formed by the erosion of the Chichamocha River, the canyon has become a popular location for adventure seekers as there are many activities such as hiking, mountain biking, zip-lining, and more!

18. Chiribiquete National Park

Without a doubt, the best national park in Colombia is Chiribiquete National Park, also known as the “Maloca of the Jaguar”. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is not only the largest national park in Colombia, but it’s the largest tropical rainforest national park in the entire world.

It is the connecting point of four biogeographical provinces: Amazon, Orinoc, Andes and Guyana.

The biodiversity in Chiribiquete National Park is beyond incredible. Besides incredible wildlife diversity, this National Park in the Colombian Amazon is home to numerous indigenous tribes, and archaeological ruins that tell the stories of their ancestor.

In fact, the name “Maloca of the Jaguar” comes from the numerous historical paintings of jaguars in the park.

One of the most unique geological features of Chiribiquete National Park is the tepuis, table-top mountains that look absolutely unworldly. They are some of the oldest geological formations on earth and are worth exploring.

19. La Chorrera Waterfall

La Chorrera Waterfall Bogota

No list of Colombia’s most famous landmarks is complete without including Cascada La Chorrera, or La Chorrera Waterfall in English. Standing at 590 meters, La Chorrera Waterfall is the tallest waterfall in Colombia, and yet its fame is nearly non-existent.

The waterfall is situated only 13 kilometers east of Bogota near the town of Choachi. From there, visitors can take a Jeep taxi to the Aventura La Chorrera Park. The park is home to La Chorrera Waterfall, as well as El Chilfon Waterfall, which is a smaller but equally stunning fall.

The nature surrounding these waterfalls offers some of the best landscapes in Colombia.

20. The Retreating Glaciers of Los Nevados National Natural Park

Glaciers Los Nevados National Natural Park

Situated in the heart of the Andes Mountains, Los Nevados National Natural Park is home to some of Colombia’s most stunning glaciers. The park is also home to a number of endangered species, including the Andean condor and the spectacled bear.

Los Nevados National Natural Park covers an area of over 58,000 hectares and is one of the largest protected areas in Colombia. One of the park’s most famous highest peaks is Nevado del Ruiz, which stands at an impressive 5,321 meters above sea level. It is the only high peak in the park accessible by car.

The park’s glaciers are retreating at an alarming rate, due to climate change. As a result, the park has become a popular destination for hikers and nature lovers alike.

21. La Candelaria, Bogota’s Historic Center

Bogota-1

The historical center of Bogotá, La Candelaria is a must-visit for any traveler to the Colombian capital. The neighborhood is home to a number of important landmarks, including the Plaza de Bolívar and the Palacio de Nariño.

La Candelaria is also home to a number of museums, including the Museo del Oro, which houses the largest collection of pre-Columbian gold in the world. The Botero Museum showcases some of the most important artworks of Latin America, as well as works of the famous Colombian artist and sculptor, Fernando Botero .

The neighborhood is also home to a number of colonial-era buildings, many of which have been converted into hotels and restaurants. Don’t miss out on La Candelaria on your Bogota visit !

Map Of The Best Landmarks In Colombia

Above is a map with all of the landmarks in Colombia we discussed. Using this, hopefully you can plan a Colombia itinerary that allows you to see as many as possible!

Colombian Landmarks FAQs

What are some of the most famous monuments in colombia.

Some of the most famous monuments in Colombia are Cristo Rey in Cali, Vargas Swamp Lancers in Boyaca, and Ventana al Mundo in Barranquilla.

What are the most famous cities in Colombia?

The most famous cities in Colombia are Cartagena, Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Santa Cruz de Mompox, and Barranquilla.

Before You Go

That concludes our article on the most famous landmarks in Colombia. Now you know which monuments, natural reserves, natural parks, mountains, and cities to visit, we hope you have an amazing trip to Colombia!

Disclaimer: Some of the links above are affiliate links. That means if you book or make a purchase through the links, we will earn a small commission at  no extra cost to you ! The money will help run this site! Thank you !

Inspired By Maps

14 Inspiring Things to Do in Colombia: Latin America’s Most Magical Destination

Posted on Last updated: December 15, 2023

Categories Colombia

14 Inspiring Things to Do in Colombia: Latin America’s Most Magical Destination

Expert travel storyteller Jordan Adkins, founder of InspiredByMaps.com, brings a decade of adventures across 101 countries and 450+ UNESCO sites into rich, off-the-beaten-path narratives, melding ecological expertise with genuine, seasoned travel insights. His full bio can be found here.

They say that Colombia has all of Latin America in one country. While we wouldn’t presume to say this, it does reflect the complexity and diversity of the continent within its borders, mixing past and present, beach and mountain, adventure and tranquillity.

It’s an astonishing mixture of landscapes thanks to its ideal position right on the equator and the range of altitudes available. Start right at the top, and you’ll find snowy mountain peaks and the unique high-mountain plains; at the low altitudes, you’ll find tropical grasslands or beaches baked in the sunshine.

In between this, there’s even more verdant land, rolling hills, and the lively city of Bogota where the temperature is always about 17 – 20 degrees.

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With all this variety, it’ll come as no surprise that Colombia offers a wealth of outdoor opportunities. Walk for days through the jungles to discover ancient ruins or challenge yourself with treks in the mountains (training might be necessary!).

If you’re more of a water baby, then head to the coast and enjoy the world-famous reef at Providencia. Of course, if this is all sounding a bit exhausting, then you’re totally free to lie on one of the gorgeous beaches instead!

It’s not only diverse in the landscape; there is also a vast range of urban landscapes. From the sprawling streets of Bogota to cobblestoned towns in the hills, there’s a mixture of colonial, historical and modern architecture. Seriously, sometimes you’ll feel like you’ve wandered onto a film set. If you want to go back even further in time, then visit Ciudad Perdida, an ancient city built sometime between the 11 th and 14 th centuries.

We also love that Colombia has seen such a turnaround recently. The second city, Medellin, has gone from a place with a violent reputation to a great tourist destination. It’s not only Medellin, either – the whole country is not only safer but bursting with innovation. And let’s not forget the coffee! With all this on offer, where do you even start planning a trip? Let’s have a look at some of our favorite things to do in Colombia.

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14 Inspiring Things to Do in Colombia: Latin America’s Most Magical Destination 🇨🇴

Page Contents

Get Inspired By Street Art in Medellin’s Comuna 13

Marvel at ancient stonework at the mysterious san agustin archaeological park, get off the beaten track in buga, cycle through the world’s biggest palm forest with salento cycling, eat your way around medellin with a tasty town food tour, tour colourful street art in bogota, get close to nature at the el rio hostel buritaca, explore historic curiosities in the national archaeological park of tierradentro, fall in love with the unique town of popayan, travel back in time in colonial heritage mompox, discover real life in colombia on a tour of bazurto market, experience the exotic san blas islands, explore under the sea in cartagena, take your caffeine addiction to the next level with the best coffee tour in salento.

We know we mentioned the street art in Bogota already, but in our opinion, it’s stuff like graffiti and street art that really help you get under the skin of a city (that, and food!). Particularly in Medellin, with its notoriously violent past, street art is a colorful symbol of how far it has come from those days.

Comuna 13, where we recommend you take a tour, was once a battleground and now is a living, breathing art gallery.

After a governmental airstrike on the neighborhood in 2002, the inhabitants of Comuna 13 started making bright, hopeful art with a range of styles and influences. The tour will take you around some of the most remarkable pieces in the area as well as introducing you to local shops and food.

It’s a safe way to see the city and chat to some residents, too. You’ll leave knowing more about Medellin.

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This is one of the fantastic things about Colombia – that there’s not only one fascinating ancient site nestled in the mountains but two! At this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you’ll find over 500 sculptures dotted around a forest walking trail.

As well as these charming statues (many of which wouldn’t be out of place in a modern art museum), you’ll find monuments, tombs, and the gorgeous Fuente de Lavapatas carved in the bed of a stream. There’s a San Agustin Archaeological Park museum to start you off, so you’ve got some context for the site, and then you can explore at will.

As well as the central park, there are a couple of other smaller sites among the rolling hills nearby – a jeep or horseback tour is the best way to get here, although you’ll need a couple of days.

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This dark horse of a town is tucked away in the Cauca Valley and not frequented by tourists, but its relaxed vibes and resident iguanas ambling around make it one of the most exciting things to do in Colombia. Yup, you read right about the iguanas – they merrily hang out in the Buga town square munching on food from local vendors.

Aside from the live nature documentary, you can also visit the miracle waterfall just outside the town, a stunning place of light and water, before recovering from the hike with some of Buga’s mouth-watering food. There’s even a brewery – the Holy Water Ale Microbrewery, no less – where you can learn more about the beer-making process. It’s an eclectic selection of things to do, we know; that’s what makes Buga such a great spot!

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The Carbonera Palm Forest has a whopping 1.5 million palm trees and is an easy day trip from Salento as it’s located in the mountainous area 25 kilometers away. Despite these draws, it’s a surprisingly secluded spot, and you’re unlikely to bump into many other people.

While walking beneath these lofty trees is a peaceful and humbling experience, we loved being able to cycle there with the Salento Cycling team , who also arrange transport there and back. It’s a swift 31-kilometer ride, allowing you to see lots of the forest, and the best part is, it’s all downhill – definitely a winner!

There’s nothing quite like skimming through such majestic nature spotting rare birds and chatting with new friends.

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Have you even visited a place if you haven’t eaten as much as you possibly can there? We don’t think so, which is why we always love a food tour. It’s a great way to learn more about the culture of a city and eat non-stop (any excuse). This tour takes you away from the busy center of Medellin to more authentic places.

Starting with bread specialties in local bakeries, to a 400-year-old market for a mini fruit tour, to a church (yup) for empanadas, you’re sure to end up places you would never expect or find on your own. Colombian food uses fresh ingredients and lots of sweet/salty combinations – hot chocolate and cheese, anyone?

Our recommendation is to be brave and get out of your comfort zone with this Tasty Town food tour , and you’ll have a more in-depth understanding of the country.

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 There’s always tons to see when you walk around bustling Bogota, from preserved colonial buildings to historic squares to vibrant nightlife. It’s a city that still has a surprise on every corner and where innovation thrives in the ever-changing capital of Colombia.

Something you’ll never get tired of discovering is the fascinating street art that adorns the walls of the city. Although it was initially repressed, now even the municipality is on board with allowing artists from all over the world to brighten up dull streets with graffiti commenting on political and social issues, or just sharing their passion for anything!

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There can often be a slight air of apology about hostels; like they’re sorry you don’t get to stay at a hotel – not so at the El Rio hostel on the coast an hour north of Santa Marta. The gorgeous El Rio hostel is set among lush forest and next to a sparkling river is proudly by backpackers, for backpackers.

The British duo that runs it aims to create a social atmosphere and do so through not having Wi-Fi (no phone-zombies here!) and arranging activities like a tubing/booze cruise combination down the river. The location is stunning, and the food is delicious – thankfully, as it’s your only option for meals!

Choose from hammocks in dorms or a private villa depending on your budget and privacy requirements, then simply relax and enjoy.

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This hidden, isolated gem in a valley of the Andes is difficult to come across if you’re not looking for it, but it’s well worth the journey. The park is home to a series of over 100 underground tombs (Hypogea) carved into the craggy volcanic rock that dates back to the 6 th to 10 th centuries.

It’s a fascinating link to the pre-Hispanic communities that built Tierradentro , communities that respected their ancestors to the extent of building tombs that mirrored their own homes. There are also amazing carvings and statues to marvel at, before exploring the surrounding landscape, which is green, secluded, and wild.

There are plenty of walks to take you around the site, and you’ll enjoy the feeling of having the place to yourself.

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Beautiful Popayan in south Colombia has many things it could boast about: a UNESCO designation for the intangible cultural heritage of humanity, protecting its almost-500-year-old Easter Procession, being a UNESCO City of Gastronomy; an impressive colonial old town. Yet somehow it remains off the tourist trail, a quiet little village where you can really relax and take your time exploring.

With hot springs in the nearby mountains, great options for cycling around the surrounding countryside, a fascinating whitewashed town center and monthly free concerts, there’s more than enough to keep you happy for days, or even weeks.

And of course, as a City of Gastronomy, you could eat all day, every day, trying new and unique flavors and food combinations.

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Exploring this dream-like city is one of our favorite things to do in Colombia and trust us when we say you won’t regret heading here before it hits the big time.

As it stands at the moment, unless you visit during Easter, you’ll have the place to yourself! Founded by the Spanish in 1530, Mompox was the first place to declare independence and is where Bolivar mustered his armies.

The architecture is astonishingly well-preserved, and the accommodation options that are appearing, such as the gorgeous Portal de la Marquesa Boutique Hotel , stay true to the spirit of the town. You can easily spend hours wandering the streets, soaking up the atmosphere and slowing your pace right down, so it matches the town itself.

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Of all the things to do in Colombia, we’d argue that very few teach you as much about real life as this Bazurto Market tour in Cartagena . Insider Tours is a part of an NGO working to empower indigenous communities in Colombia, so it’s an important cause to support, as well as being fascinating for you as a traveler as well.

Bazurto Market is absolutely massive, full of stalls selling everything from meat, fruit and vegetables, music, snacks, and fish. You get a chance to chat with business owners and try a range of food along the way – the seafood market, in particular, stood out.

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These 365 idyllic white-sand islands decorating a turquoise-blue ocean are the perfect places to unwind after exploring the bustling cities of Colombia. Independent travel there is pretty much impossible, so choose your tour carefully.

Having the opportunity to explore such remote and uninhabited islands like San Blas is a real privilege, and there are points when you feel like you must be in paradise. Be warned, however: the boat trip over there is often rough, so take a seasickness tablet or two!

Then simply enjoy the simple accommodation, quiet beaches and lack of responsibility!  

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While the above-ground part of lovely Cartagena gets all the press, what can be experienced when diving in sites a one-hour boat trip away is every bit as fascinating.

Although over-fishing means you might not see as many fish species as in other dive spots, here you’ll see colorful reefs, fantastic flora and fauna, and possibly even some old pirate treasure strewn across the sea bed.

The dive school here really appreciates the importance of taking your time when exploring underwater – it’s not about ‘ticking off’ items on a list, but merely enjoying the opportunity to be allowed into this under the sea world (no merpeople, alas!).

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There are lots of tours to choose from in Colombia’s coffee triangle, but in our experience, the Finca Don Eduardo Coffee Tour beats the rest. High in the mountains among coffee fields so green it hardly seems real, Don Eduardo (actually a British expat!) grows his coffee and gives informative and funny tours.

It covers every part of the coffee-making process, and you’ll learn hundreds of fun facts you never knew before (warn your friends you’ll be boring them with coffee factoids for a while!). Of course, the coffee tasting is a high point, and it leaves you with a newfound appreciation for your caffeine fix.

So there you have it – just a few of the hundreds of amazing things to do in Colombia. Like Don Eduardo, you might be tempted to stay forever!

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The Jetsetter Diaries

Best Places to Visit in Colombia – Travel Guide

by Asdghik Ashley Melkonian

Medellin Colombia

Table of Contents

SANTA MARTA

Tayrona national park, san andres & providencia, ciudad perdida, cano cristales, coffee triangle, cocora valley, salt cathedral of zipaquira, best places to visit in colombia: travel map, colombia travel safety tips, best time to visit colombia, colombia vaccinations, what is the most visited place in colombia, what should i see in colombia, is it safe to vacation in colombia, what is the nicest city in colombia.

Colombia is one of the most beautiful and diverse destinations in South America. After suffering from a dark and violent past, it is now emerging as an up-and-coming vacation spot for travelers. Some of the most dangerous cities in Colombia have transformed into safe and beautiful spots even for solo travelers. This list of the best places to visit in Colombia can help you plan an incredible trip.

The gateway to South America is on the mend after decades of turmoil and violence. It has emerged as a success story with a growing economy and a rich, diverse culture that is kept alive and kicking thanks to its warm, coffee-loving people.

After spending several months traveling to the best places to visit in Colombia, I’ve put together this detailed travel guide and important tips to know before visiting this stunning country.

The cities listed below are not in any order of preference. Colombia has so much to offer, so it’s up to you to decide what to include depending on the duration of your trip.

Best Places to Visit In Colombia Best Places to Visit in Colombia - Travel Guide

Top Major Cities To Visit In Colombia

Monserrate Bogota

The Athens of South America is also its capital and one of the best cities in Colombia. The bustling city sits high atop the Andes at an impressive 8,530 feet and is home to museums, art galleries, and well-preserved colonial houses.

68 indigenous groups reside in this ever-evolving metropolis where modern buildings coexist alongside charming, old neighborhoods like La Candelaria. There is an abundance of historic landmarks that offer a window into the past. Museums such as the Museo del Oro is a must-visit and an essential part of any Bogota travel itinerary.

Needless to say, the city caters to foodies, nature lovers, and art enthusiasts. There is definitely something for everyone here and many attractions to look forward to including the breathtaking views in Cerro de Monserrate.

Don’t miss out on the famous La Candelaria area where you can spot impressive graffiti and street art. In fact, graffiti is legal in Colombia, so if you’re a street art lover like myself, you will love roaming around these colorful streets.

Bogota Travel Tips: Bogota is a great place to start your trip. Most international flights fly into the capital, so I recommend starting off in Bogota and staying for 2 or 3 nights. You can easily tour the top sights in one condensed day or you can choose to stay longer to explore even more. Top places to visit in Bogota: Monserrate, La Candelaria, Bolivar Square, Museo Botero, Gold Museum, Usaquén Flea Market Where to stay in Bogota: Mid-range: Hotel bh Bicentenario Luxury: Four Seasons Hotel Bogotá

Travelers craving a slice of Caribbean paradise must include this gem of a city in their Colombia travel itinerary. The weather here is hot and humid and invites you to unwind and soak up the tropical sun while sipping on your favorite cocktail.

Andalusian-style palaces and a well-preserved historic center complete with Spanish military architecture are shielded by an impressive wall that was designed to keep enemies at bay. The UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the best places to visit in Colombia and home to narrow cobblestone streets lined with cheerful yellow houses and beautiful churches as well as hotels and restaurants.

Beach lovers should definitely include Playa Blanca in their Cartagena travel plans. The pristine beach is easily accessible and offers more than just sun, sea, and sand. Visitors can rent a jet ski or embark on a boat trip to Rosario, some of the best Colombia Islands , where they can explore the stunning Caribbean beaches and mangrove tunnels.

Places to visit in Cartagena Colombia

Set your expectations before visiting Cartagena: Cartagena has gained so much popularity recently, that you could easily feel a little bit claustrophobic with the number of tourists in the walled city. You won’t really get a taste of the local culture here, because most things have become so commercialized for tourists.

For example: the women in traditional colorful dresses that carry the fruits on their head (Palenqueras) will approach you on every street to ask you for payment to take a picture with them.

Some travelers are flying directly in and out of the city without visiting other places in Colombia. I don’t recommend doing this, because Colombia is so much more than Cartagena. In fact, you can walk the whole area of the walled city in half a day. It is without a doubt a very charming part of the country and you shouldn’t miss out on it, but you will get more of a local experience in other cities.

Insider tip: Centenario Park is located right outside the walled city. You can spot monkeys, sloths, iguanas, and beautiful birds all over the park. If you can’t see the animals, walk up to one of the park rangers and tip him a few pesos. He will walk around with you and show you all the animals on the trees.

Playa Blanca Cartagena Colombia

Top places to visit in Cartagena: Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, Rosario Islands, Playa Blanca , Centenario Park Where to stay in Cartagena: Budget: Hostal 1811 Charming boutique hotel: Ananda Hotel Boutique – Hoteles Cosmos Luxury: Hotel Capilla del Mar

Comuna 13 Medellin

The City of Eternal Spring (one of my personal favorite places to visit in Colombia) has undergone a renaissance on all fronts and is now one of the best places to go in Colombia. No trip is complete without exploring a city that was once solely synonymous with violence, murder, and Pablo Escobar.

Medellin offers free walking tours where you can feast your eyes on the vibrant graffiti and treat your taste buds to delicious empanadas along the way. Comuna 13 offers a glimpse into the healing community where fresh food markets and dazzling murals adorn the walls and buildings.

Cable cars offer a different perspective and more panoramic views of this valley-based city and they can drop you off in Santo Domingo where more eye-catching street art and delicious food awaits you.

Foodies must include El Poblado in their Medellin travel itinerary. This lovely district or commune boasts an impressive selection of high-end restaurants run by Michelin Star chefs and trendy boutiques as well as coffee shops that serve the best cup of joe money can buy.

Medellin Travel Tips: 1. Don’t miss the free walking tour in Comuna 13. This district was once one of the most violent cities in the world. It has now transformed into street art heaven. The walking tour ends on a cute little rooftop cafe with panoramic views of the city and a quick salsa class.

2. Cable Cars in Medellin are used as a regular transportation method for locals who live on the hills and mountains around the city. You can access them with a metro card. Take the cable car all the way up to Santo Domingo in the afternoon. That way, you can enjoy the best sunset in Medellin from the top. Warning: this is quite a dangerous neighborhood, so don’t wander too far from the cable car area.

3. To learn about the history and dark past of Medellin, I recommend a visit to Museo Casa de la Memoria.

4. Plaza Botero is in the old quarter of Medellin. It’s like an open-air museum for world-renowned Colombian artist Fernando Botero. You can see several of his famous statues in the center. The surrounding area is a market for locals, which is a great place to try some of the local restaurants.

5. If you have some time, I recommend visiting Explora Park. It’s an impressive science museum with a nice aquarium and lots of interactive science games.

Best places to visit in Medellin , Colombia: Comuna 13, Plaza Botero, Museo Casa de la Memoria, Museum of Antioquia, Park Arvi, Explora Park, El Poblado Where to Stay in Medellin: – El Poblado is the most touristy town in Medellin. Most travelers stay there because it has some great accommodation options, restaurants, cafes, bars, and nightclubs. However, you will see more foreigners than locals here. – Laureles is another great area to stay if you want more of a local feel. It’s cheaper than Poblado and still has restaurants and bars. They are catered more to locals than foreigners (which I love!). Budget: Los Patios Hostel Mid-range: The Click Clack Hotel Medellín Luxury: Medellin Marriott Hotel

Best Places to visit in Cali Colombia

The Rumba Capital is a magnet for Salsa lovers and a city with many layers and influences. Many locals here have African roots and it shows in the exotic dishes on offer at La Alameda. The city’s central market allows you to treat your taste buds to tamales as well as deep-fried bites made of plantain and stuffed with sizzling hot white cheese.

Cali offers cat lovers a treat in the form of a riverside park. Travelers can sample more delicious street food and take pictures of the various cat sculptures on display. Barrio San Antonio is lined with well-preserved Spanish colonial houses. It is a great place to unwind and indulge in craft beer before touring the city by bike.

Best Beach Towns & Islands To Visit In Colombia

Santa Marta is a charming little city and a great starting point for your trips to Tayrona National Park or La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City).

The region is home to organic coffee farms and a nature reserve where jaguars, brocket deer, and otters roam freely under the emerald green foliage. There is no shortage of pristine beaches either, and this includes El Rodadero where visitors can sample locally brewed rum and listen to some live music while basking under the Caribbean sun.

How to get from Cartagena to Santa Marta: The bus ride takes about 5 hours from Cartagena to Santa Marta with 2 or 3 rest stops. The most commonly known bus companies are Berlinas and MarSol with similar pricing between $12 to $14. I booked my bus ride through my hostel and they picked me up directly from my hostel the next morning.

Santa Marta Travel Tips: It’s good to use Santa Marta as a base to visit the famous places in Colombia such as Parque Tayrona, Ciudad Perdida, Minca, and Taganga. Where to Stay in Santa Marta: Budget: República Hostel Santa Marta Mid-range: Casa de Leda, a Kali Hotel

Parque Tayrona invites you to explore the vast jungle terrain where towering palm trees, colorful orchids, and fruit-bearing trees provide a sanctuary for animals like squirrels and monkeys as well as exotic birds and iguanas.

Tayrona has earned a prime spot in many Colombia South America travel guides and boasts more than 14 beaches including the hammock haven known as Cabo San Juan. The park is home to more than 350 bird species including white eagles and rainbow billed toucans, making it a popular bird-watching destination.

Tayrona has its fair share of golden beaches and some are more touristy than others.  Travelers can camp or simply soak up the sun in Bahia Concha or capture the tropical sunset with their camera in Playa La Piscina.

Parque Tayrona

Tayrona Park Travel Tips: 1. There are several local buses that go from Santa Marta to Tayrona. You can arrange one easily through your hotel.

2. The park opens from 8 AM to 5 PM, so if you’re not spending the night in the park, you have to make sure you’re back at the main entrance before 5 PM to catch the buses going back to Santa Marta.

3. Plan to spend at least 1 or 2 nights in the Park to really enjoy the experience.

4. Another option is to go horseback riding through the jungle to reach the main beach. Once you enter the park, you will see some locals with horses and you can negotiate the price with them.

Tayrona Park Colombia

My experience: I did a day trip because I was limited with my time there and it was a big mistake. The walk through the jungle to reach the most famous beach area takes 2-3 hours. Then, you have to walk the same way to go back to the entrance. That’s why I decided to go horseback riding on the way back. Thankfully, I know how to ride, because we passed through some very narrow pathways with the horse and the guy that was leading the way was speeding in the jungle. If you never went horseback riding, I don’t recommend trying it here for the first time!

Camping Tayrona Park

Where to stay in Parque Tayrona: Camping options are available around the main beach. You don’t have to book in advance for these. Here are some other options: Budget: The Journey Hostel Mid-range: Villa Maria Tayrona

400 miles northwest of Colombia, the postcard-perfect islands of San Andres and Providencia offer visitors the chance to explore the Afro-Caribbean vibes that are unique to this region.

Providencia is a popular snorkeling and diving destination with plenty of tranquil beaches to choose from. The island is sprinkled with well-preserved colonial houses and small charming restaurants that serve an array of fresh seafood every day. Don’t miss a visit to the famous island of Cajo Cangrejo.

Downtown San Andres is a magnet for shoppers thanks to its duty-free stores where visitors can indulge in a bit of retail therapy before exploring the island via golf cart. Island highlights include the towns of La Loma and San Luis as well as the pirate-themed Morgan’s Cave.

Providencia Colombia

Where to Stay in San Andres: República Hostel San Andres

Colombia has many hidden gems and one of them happens to be Palomino. This sleepy fishing town boasts a pristine beach that attracts surfers, seafood fans as well as tubing enthusiasts.

Here, the lively Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta jungle and its river flirt with the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Palomino is home to incredible tropical sunsets and great barracudas. It is known for its hostels and strategic location for those who want to explore La Guajira and the northern Caribbean deserts.

Where to Stay in Palomino: Budget: Finca Escondida Mid-range: La Jorará Luxury: Makao

Where To Go In Colombia For Nature & Adventure Lovers

ciudad perdida colombia

The Sierra Nevada mountains harbor a hidden gem in the name of Ciudad Perdida or Teyuna. Hiking to this once lost city takes you through an Indiana Jones-esque adventure deep in the jungle terrain.

The 27-mile hike to the ancient ruins involves climbing more than 1200 steps and offers stunning views of the mountain range that was once home to the mysterious Tairona Civilization. The treasures left behind by the Tairona are on display at the local Gold Museum in Santa Marta.

Guatape from Medellin

They say good things come in small packages. Guatape is the sole definition of a quaint, technicolor town that is best known for Piedra del Peñol. The towering monolith of a rock offers panoramic views of the artificial lake. Visitors can go on a leisurely boat ride to learn more about the history of the region.

The cobblestone street known as La Calle del Recuerdo showcases the town’s love and dedication for zocalos. These fresco-like panels add a touch of personality to each building. They are used by the locals to advertise things like bakeries and sewing shops. Hiking and trekking through the emerald green hills allow you to explore the forest reserves and hidden waterfalls.

Things to do in Guatape

Guatape Travel Tips: You can go to Guatape from Medellin as a day trip or decide to stay a couple of nights. It’s very easy to go back and forth with the local buses.

Caño Cristales

Parque Nacional Natural Sierra de La Macarena is a must-visit if you are in Colombia between June and November. The park is home to The River of Five Colors. There is a natural phenomenon that paints the riverbed in an array of rainbow colors.

Caño Cristales is remarkable to witness and is definitely worth the hike. The area looks like a real-life painting and deserves to be crowned as one of the most beautiful places to visit in Colombia. La Macarena’s national park is home to more than 400 bird species. It boasts a rich and diverse ecosystem where savannahs and rainforests create a haven for cougars, iguanas, monkeys, and other native Colombian wildlife species.

Amazonas Colombia

Very few places on earth can rival the vibrant Amazon rainforest and its untamed river. The tropical gateway to the lungs of the earth is none other than Leticia.

The city is a tourism and commercial hub. Visitors can treat their taste buds to freshly caught pirarucu fish before exploring the surrounding nature reservations and meeting the indigenous people who sell handcrafted souvenirs while sharing stories about their culture and beliefs. There is no shortage of activities here including tree climbing, kayaking, and bird watching.

Isla de Los Micos is one of many Colombian tourist attractions in the region and home to more than 5000 squirrel monkeys. Puerto Nariño is not to be missed either. This ecological community is traffic-free and more serene compared to Leticia. It is a great place to witness great ecotourism initiatives unfold in real-time.

Where to Stay in Amazonas: Palmayacu – Refugio Amazónico La Ceiba, Amazonas

Bogota to Cocora Valley

You can’t leave Colombia without having the best coffee in the world! Nothing says Colombia like the famous Coffee Triangle in the central Andes. The fertile volcanic soil and a cool, wet climate give birth to a sea of ripe red berries during harvest season.

It’s called the Coffee Triangle, because it’s made up of 3 neighboring cities: Pereira, Armenia, and Manizales.

Coffee lovers unsure about what to do in Colombia will discover that this region is not to be missed. Family-owned farms offer visitors a chance to sample the best coffee while learning more about the history of these flavorful beans. Exploring the regions of Risaralda, Caldas, and Quindío on horseback is a popular option. This evergreen landscape is also home to a charming village called Salento.

Coffee Triangle Travel Tips: 1. Stay in Salento or Pereira to explore the area. You can use either city as a base to take tours and also visit Cocora Valley. 2. If you’re a coffee lover like me, don’t miss out on a coffee tasting tour. I recommend a visit to Hacienda Bruselas with colombiancoffeeadventures.com

Cocora Valley Colombia

Home to Colombia’s national tree – the tallest wax palm trees in the world. White cotton candy clouds merge with the steep emerald hills of the Andes, creating the perfect backdrop for hiking and picnics. It’s one of the most impressive places to visit in Colombia.

The surreal 200-foot trees are located in Los Nevados National Natural Park. An abundance of rivers and creeks help irrigate the neighboring farmlands and provide much-needed water to villages and cities.

Cocora Valley Travel Tips: You can visit Cocora Valley as part of your Coffee Triangle trip. Read my detailed guide on visiting Cocora Valley with lots of recommendations on where to stay.

Off The Beaten Path Places To Visit In Colombia

Las Lajas Colombia

The river canyon near Ipiales harbors a stunning gothic cathedral that took decades to build. The history of this sanctuary is rooted in legend and dates back to 1754. Many tourists and pilgrims flock to the site where a number of miracles supposedly took place.

The fairytale location of La Lajas offers panoramic views of the Guitara Rivera and the surrounding canyon. The interior of the cathedral is just as impressive. It features an exposed back wall where a woman and her daughter reportedly spotted an image of the Virgin Mary all those centuries ago.

SALT CATHEDRAL OF ZIPAQUIRA Best Places to Visit in Colombia - Travel Guide

Experiencing the best of Colombia takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to this remarkable underground cathedral. Just northeast of Bogota, the fully functioning place of worship welcomes around 600,000 visitors every year, and for good reason. A series of underground tunnels allow your anticipation to build as you finally reach the subterranean marvel.

Purple lights help illuminate the basilica dome. The hanging cross once belonged to the miners who helped build the original sanctuary back in the 1950s. Almost everything in this place is carved out of the surrounding salt rock including the basilica and the intricately carved statues.

It’s located around 2 hours away from Bogota. You can take a tour, local bus or train to reach the cathedral.

LA GUAJIRA Colombia Best Places to Visit in Colombia - Travel Guide

The land of desert dunes and pink flamingos offers a change of scenery and a chance to support the Wayuu tribe by purchasing their handmade goods while learning more about their resistance to the occupation.

La Guajira is a popular kite-surfing destination and home to a Flamingo sanctuary where visitors can go on boat trips across four lagoons. It is also home to Maciura National Park and Punta Gallinas, the northernmost point on the continent where sand dunes and mangroves paint a surreal landscape that is unlike any other region in Colombia.

Things to Know Before Your Trip

Is colombia safe to travel to.

The birthplace of Shakira has plenty to offer in terms of landscapes and activities but there are certain things that every tourist should know before making the trip. For example, is it safe to travel to Colombia? This question in particular may have crossed the minds of many who are familiar with the country’s dark history.

The 2016 peace treaty between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces in the country has definitely opened the door for a safer Colombia. However, street crime and pickpocketing remain an issue, and so travelers need to be vigilant especially when traveling on their own. Colombia safety guidelines issued by a number of countries including the U.S and the U.K offer regular updates concerning border areas and other regions that are marked as unsafe for tourists.

If you read some of the travel warnings you might be put off from visiting the country, but my advice is totally different.

Yes, there is a lot of petty crime in Colombia especially targeting tourists at night. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel there. If you take some precautions and read about the common scams, you’ll be fine. Some people who never visited can assume the worst like you’re going to get kidnapped or killed. That’s not something you should be afraid of. Just remember that Colombia’s dark past has created some bad media and given it this reputation.

As a solo female traveler, I spent 2 months visiting so many different cities, using public transportation and roaming around by myself with no issues at all. Having said that, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take extra precautions during your Colombia vacation.

Colombia has a bad reputation for violence and drug trafficking. It suffered a lot during the 90s because of the cartels, but it has come such a long way since then. As long as you are careful and informed, you can enjoy a very safe trip to Colombia.

Travelers are advised not to wear anything flashy or valuable such as expensive watches and jewelry. This is basic common sense and can be applied to other countries as well. Wandering off the grid is also not recommended, and neither is accepting cigarettes or drinks from strangers.

The safest cities in Colombia are definitely worth the trip. There is no shortage of sun toasted beaches and lush green forests to choose from. A trip to Colombia is also not complete without dipping your toes in the sapphire waters of the Caribbean and going on a coffee tasting tour in the Andes mountains.

1. Every city in Colombia is different. The cities that are filled with lots of tourists are relatively safer than others. Cartagena is a hot spot for international tourists, so no matter what time you go out, you’re always surrounded by other travelers and you don’t stand out from the crowd. Bogota, for example, is a different story. It’s a huge city and most of the time you are surrounded by locals. It’s easier for pickpockets to spot the tourists.

2. Don’t walk around with an expensive camera. You can still carry it with you in a bag or backpack, just don’t flash it around visibly so you don’t become a target.

3. Don’t stand on busy streets with a smartphone in your hand. You will be an easy target for people on scooters to snatch your phone. If you’re using Google Maps to navigate, just look up the directions and then put your phone away somewhere safe and not easily accessible.

4. Use a cross bag with a zipper. Make sure to wear it around your neck and put your hand on it for extra safety when walking in crowded areas.

5. Take Uber or other transportation apps instead of public taxis. It’s safer and more cost-efficient because some of the taxi drivers will try to overcharge you as a tourist.

6. Don’t walk too much after dark. If you’re out having drinks, it’s better to take a taxi home even if your hotel is nearby.

7. Take extra precautions in bars and clubs. This is going to sound like some very basic advice, but don’t accept drinks from strangers. There have been several cases of people getting drugged in clubs and waking up in their hotel without their cash or cameras. A common scam is that some men are approached by beautiful local women who pretend to party with them and spike their drinks to steal their cash.

8. Don’t carry too much cash or official documents. Most places accept credit cards anyway.

9. Worst-case scenario: if someone does try to mug you, do not fight it. Give him whatever he wants and let him leave. If you try to fight, it can get violent and you will get hurt. A lot of times these guys have their friends waiting around behind the corner, so you can be outnumbered.

Here are 32 common travel scams in Colombia and how to avoid them.

Best Places to Visit in Colombia

Colombia is very diverse and the weather varies throughout the country. The best time to go to Colombia depends on the region you intend to visit. Being neighbors with the equator has blessed the country with different microclimates. For example, the Amazon region is hot and humid compared to the colder climate in Bogota.

Colombia is known for its tropical climate, so the ideal time to visit the country is typically between December and March. This is also peak tourist season and a surge in prices occurs as a result. However, less rainfall makes it possible to take part in many outdoor activities such as trekking and whale watching.

There are no mandatory vaccinations you need to take before visiting Colombia. If you want to be extra cautious, you can decide whether or not to take them depending on the nature of your trip. Here’s a great resource to help you decide: Colombia CDC recommendations .

For travelers interested in visiting the Amazon region including Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park and Tayrona National Park vaccination against yellow fever is recommended. Travelers are advised to get this vaccine ten days before visiting any of the country’s Amazon reserves.

Hepatitis A and Typhoid fever vaccines are not mandatory, and neither are Malaria pills, but they are recommended by the CDC depending on the areas you will be visiting.

I personally did not take any vaccinations or malaria pills and I was fine throughout my trip. If you choose not to take any vaccinations, just be cautious not to drink tap water, pay extra attention to hygiene when eating street food, and get a good bug spray for outdoor activities.

Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting Colombia:

The most visited places in Colombia are Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena, Tayrona Park, and Santa Marta.

The best places to see in Colombia are: 1. Cartagena 2. Medellin 3. Cocora Valley 4. The Coffee Triangle 5. Tayrona Park 6. San Andres Island 7. Playa Blanca & Rosario Islands 8. Caño Cristales 9. Guatape 10. The Amazon Jungle

Yes, it is safe to vacation in Colombia if you take the right precautions. Leave your valuable belongings at home and always research the city you’re visiting for safety tips. When it’s dark, it’s best to take a taxi back to your hotel instead of walking.

The nicest cities in Colombia to visit are: 1. Medellin 2. Cartagena 3. Guatape 4. Salento

places to visit in colombia

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Ultimate Colombia Itinerary: Best Places To Visit In Colombia

In case you haven’t heard the news, Colombia is back on the map as a tourist destination. This country has so much to offer, and for so long it was inaccessible to tourism.

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In the last few years, this has all changed. Colombia is now an emerging destination for travelers, and it’s arguably safer than ever. People are starting to consider a Colombia vacation as an exciting and viable option, and there’s never been a better time to visit .

There are so many things to see and do in Colombia. You’ll find charming and historic cities, ancient ruins, awe-inspiring national parks, and vibrant culture. The food is delicious and the people are warm and friendly. As a whole, the country is developing fast, opening up more and more avenues for sustainable tourism.

What’s more, flights tend to be really cheap if you’re coming from North America . Still, need convincing?

Here’s everything you need to know to plan your Colombia itinerary.

The Best Time to Visit Colombia

Colombia’s peak tourist season is between December and March . The rain is at its lightest during these months, so this is when the visitors pour in as a result. However, the prices are highest during these months.

best places to visit in colombia

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The rainy season is different depending on whether you’re in the mountains or on the coast. The coast experiences the most rain between September and October, while the Andean Mountains are wettest from May to July and October to December.

All things considered, however, there isn’t a bad time to take a Colombia vacation . The temperatures are fairly consistent all year ‘round and even when it does rain, it’s usually followed by bright sunshine.

READ NEXT: Is Colombia Safe to Travel and Other Colombia Travel Tips

Best Places to Visit in Colombia

Medellín  .

Time Needed: 3-4 days 

Medellín should be one of the top cities on your Colombia itinerary. It’s considered one of the country’s most liveable cities and has recently become a hotspot for expats and digital nomads. Tucked into the mountains of the Antioquia Province, Medellín is affectionately known as the “City of Eternal Spring” due to its nearly perfect weather regardless of the season.

Travel in Colombia. Medellin

Medellin isn’t chock full of sights and attractions, but it does have some nice botanical gardens, lovely public parks and green spaces, and famous city squares such as the Plaza Botero.

The food and nightlife are both world class in Medellín. On a food tour, you can explore the markets in town and sample some of the regional delicacies, such as mondongo. Make sure that you also go out at night at least once to experience the city after dark ; try going to one of the local bars and tasting a locally made craft beer.

best places to visit in colombia

In addition, there are a number of great day trips you can take from the city.

One of the most popular options is Guatapé, a colourful town about two hours away, where you can spend a full day touring . The most popular sight to see here is El Peñol, a massive slab of rock with hundreds of stairs carved into the side that visitors can climb for unrivalled views. Some of the best Colombia tourist attractions can be found in Medellín, both inside and outside the city limits.

best places to visit in colombia

Bogotá   

Time Needed: 2-3 days

One of the best places to visit in Colombia is undoubtedly the country’s capital, Bogotá. Located about eight hours to the southeast of Medellín , the city has lots to offer visitors.

best places to visit in colombia

Start your Bogotá, Colombia itinerary by visiting La Candelaria, the historic city center. Lined with cobblestones and colonial buildings, it’s the perfect place to take a walking tour or even a biking tour .

Next, visit some of the famous museums , such as the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) or the Museo de Botero, a renowned art museum.

best places to visit in colombia

No visit to Bogotá would be complete without a visit to Cerro Monserrate, a mountain that overlooks the city to the east. Take the cable car up for breathtaking views over the entire Bogotá cityscape. Seeing the skyline from above is certainly one of the best things to do in Colombia.

best places to visit in colombia

For a really fascinating experience, try taking a Breaking Borders Tour . This tour is run by a group of ex-gang members in Bogotá and gives incredible insight into the city from those who have seen it through unique eyes.

If you’re into cities by the sea , then add Cartagena to your Colombia itinerary: the best parts are all right by the ocean.

best places to visit in colombia

Start your tour of Cartagena by exploring the old town, a section of the city enclosed in an old stone wall. There’s a lot of history to be discovered here , and you’ll find a stark contrast between old and new. Next, head over to Bocagrande to explore the more modern side of the city.

best places to visit in colombia

Later, hit the beach. You can either relax and enjoy the weather on a few of the lovely sand beaches right near the city or take a boat to one of the nearby islands for a little slice of paradise .

Santa Marta  

Time Needed: 4-5 days 

Santa Marta is one of the best places to visit in Colombia and one of our personal favourites. There’s so much to see and do in the area, especially for outdoor and nature lovers .

Explore the nearby town of Taganga , where you can relax on tropical beaches or take a boat trip on the ocean. The area is known for excellent diving , so make sure to explore beneath the surface as well .

You’ll also want to spend some time in Tayrona National Park , one of the most fantastic nature reserves in Colombia . It’s an incredible place to go hiking and to explore some truly pristine, secluded beaches.

best places to visit in colombia

READ NEXT: 7 Destinations You Have to Visit in Northeast Brazil

Lost City Trek

Time Needed: 4-5 days

Santa Marta also serves as a gateway to the famous Lost City Trek , a 4-5 day hike to the ancient ruins that known locally as Ciudad Perdida.

It’s a challenging hike, but nothing compares to adventuring through the jungle and coming upon ancient ruins of civilizations that have long since disappeared. This is definitely one of the most exciting and rewarding things to do in Colombia.

best places to visit in colombia

San Gil 

San Gil is Colombia’s adventure capital. There are so many things to do here to get your adrenaline pumping, such as whitewater rafting, hiking, kayaking, canyoning, and more .

best places to visit in colombia

San Gil’s main claim to fame, however, is paragliding . There are two different places where you can do it and two different flights you can take, long or short. We gave paragliding a try when we were traveling in San Gil and it was one of our favourite (and most adrenaline-packed) experiences in Colombia !

San Gil is quite small but enormously charming. There isn’t a lot to do in the town itself, but with some raging rivers, rolling hills, and deep canyons nearby, you’ll find adventure right outside of town . If you’re simultaneously looking for some excitement and the chance to get away from the chaos of the cities, then San Gil is one of the best places to visit in Colombia.

Other Destinations To Consider

If you love sports, dancing, or going out at night , put Cali on your Colombia itinerary right away. This city, located in the southwest of the country, is full of energy.

During the day, make sure to visit Barrio San Antonio, a charming neighbourhood full of buzzing cafes and restaurants. Don’t forget to try the pandebono, a local cheese bread.

best places to visit in colombia

At night, hit the trendy bars and mingle with the locals, or go out dancing at a popular salsa club and see how the experts dance. It might be a popular Colombia tourist attraction, but it’s certainly worth experiencing.

Punta Gallinas

Punta Gallinas is the northernmost point in South America, making it a must-visit for those who want the experience of seeing the cardinal extremes of the continent . To get there, you must cross La Guajira, a vast, sandy desert. Once you reach Punta Gallinas, you’ll get to explore wide and remote beaches and likely enjoy the ocean all to yourself.

This small town tucked away into the mountains attracts coffee-lovers from around the world. While you’re visiting, make sure to take a tour of a coffee plantation and taste the local brews .

best places to visit in colombia- - Salento

Salento is also the gateway town to Los Nevados National Park, a stunning nature reserve home to rare and exotic birds.

Cocora Valley

If you’re a hiking- or outdoor-enthusiast, consider visiting Cocora Valley. Right in a central part of the Andean Mountains, the Cocora Valley is lush, green, and full of trekking routes to discover .

best places to visit in colombia- Cocora Valley

Caño Cristales

The Caño Cristales is widely considered one of the best places to visit in Colombia . This incredible river is famously nicknamed the “River of Five Colours.” From above, it looks like a flowing rainbow, full of bright yellows, pinks, blues, greens, and reds. The colours are caused by a unique bloom in plant life in the river that only takes place during a short window of time each year.

Isla de Providencia and Isla de San Andrés

Off the east coast of Nicaragua, you’ll find two small islands that belong to Colombia, San Andrés and Providencia. The islands are stunning, with lots of colourful coral reefs just below the water’s surface. Reggae music is also huge here, so you can look forward to relaxing on the beach to some island tunes.

best places to visit in colombia- San Andrés

How Long Should Your Colombia Itinerary Be?

Colombia has so much to see and do that you could easily spend months here. We personally visited for a full month and have since come back for more.

In general, if you want to see as much of the country as you can on a full trip, two weeks is the absolute minimum you should spend . Three weeks or more is ideal. If you can’t spend that long in the country, you’ll just have to plan to come back for a second trip.

Taganga Colombia should be on your south america bucket list

No matter what your travel style or interests are, Colombia deserves a spot on your bucket list . With so much to see and do, you could never explore it all in a lifetime, but you can try! 

Which of these places holds the number one spot on your future Colombia itinerary? 

About the author.

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Oksana & Max St John

3 thoughts on “ultimate colombia itinerary: best places to visit in colombia”.

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HI, im from Colombia and y love this blog, the places you mentioned are the most visited. Also in el eje cafetero are few theme parks that are awesome, and you can see beautiful views

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Nice one! So far el Valle de Cocora is definitely my favorite spot when it comes to Colombian tourism . However, I’ve been to Cartagena a few times and it’s such a great destination if you want to have a great time with friends and/or family. For those who are looking for beatuiful beaches I would say San Andres is probably the best place to go, but please, don’t go during holidays ’cause It’ll be crowded.

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Caño cristales si the only rivera with a lot of colores ! good guide

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12 Cool Places to Visit in Colombia

Posted on March 21, 2022 March 22, 2022 Author Priya Leave a comment

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There are many reasons to visit Colombia. This South American country is home to bustling cities, stunning nature reserves, and rich cultural heritage. Whether you’re looking for an urban adventure or a chance to get away from it all, Colombia has something for everyone. In this blog post, we will take a look at 12 of the best places to visit in Colombia.

Barrio Del Candelaria | 12 Best Places to Visit in Colombia | Outside Suburbia

WHAT IS IN THIS POST

12 Best Places to Visit in Colombia (must-visit places in Colombia)

Cartagena , tops our list of colombia places to visit.

The port city of Cartagena was founded in 1533. It is known for its vibrant architecture and culture, which has earned it a spot on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.

Cartagena is a city on the Caribbean coast. People like it because it has a unique feel and it is easy to get to different beaches, islands, and jungles.

The city is divided into three neighborhoods: Getsemani, San Sebastian, and Santa Catalina . In the third, you’ll find the iconic cathedral, Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandría and many of the most recognizable streets and buildings. There’s also San Diego, traditionally home to Cartagena’s merchants.

Some things you should do in Cartagena are climbing the Castillo fortress for a view, roam the Plaza Santo Domingo , and shop for souvenirs at Las Bovedas covered market. If you get overwhelmed by the UNESCO Walled City, take a break by going to one of the nearby beaches or chartering a boat

Catedral de Santa Catalina de Alejandría, Cartagena, Colombia

Bogota is the largest city in Colombia and the nation’s capital . It’s a must-see city on any trip to Colombia. The Spaniards founded what would become the city in 1538. It is a breathtaking city that is home to more than 11 million people.

If you want to see the best view of the colonial old town, the business district, and the outskirts that stretch far into the horizon, you can take the cable car up to Monserrate which is 10,340 feet up.

The old town, Barrio Del Candelaria , is home to many stunning historic buildings. Here you will find all the quaint colonial buildings and, also a vibrant graffiti scene. The heart of the city is the Plaza Bolivar , where musicians regularly perform and other events take place.

cultural places to visit in colombia

Cali is most famous for being the home of the Cali Cartel . However, many travelers skip over this Colombian city without knowing that it is also famous for something else.

Cali is considered the world capital of salsa dancing. If you’re interested in learning how to salsa dance, I recommend spending some time there and visiting some of the local spots.

Cali is home to the world salsa championships. Kids as young as four and five years old compete in individual or group events. The championships last for several days over different venues. It’s a great way to see Cali from a local perspective.

Medellín (Not so popular places to visit in Colombia)

Medellin is probably the most infamous city in entire South America! This city once made famous by Pablo Escobar has been slowly transforming, and coming out of its shadow.

District 13 (Comuna 13), Medellín

One particular area of Medellín, a neighborhood called Comuna 13 , also known as San Javier, was once labeled the most dangerous community due to its astronomical homicide rates. Right below it, on the northeast edges of Medellín in Colombia used to be the fortress of the cocaine king.

Illegal activities remained rampant even after his death in 1993, as other drug cartels sought control of the area. The neighborhood was controlled by groups loyal to Pablo Escobar.

Graffiti signifying the white rags raised during Operation Orión

These days the area is safe to visit and you can even take a tour of Comuna 13 to understand the impact of the drug cartel and how far they have come along. Many famous street artists, musicians, and community leaders have helped the kids with more productive and creative ways to channel self-expression through art instead of gangs and violence.

Street Art in Medellín, Colombia

See: More Grafitti and Street Art from South America

Enjoy nature, leticia (gateway to the amazon rainforest).

Leticia is the capital of the Colombian Amazon. The only way to get there is by flying.

When you visit Leticia, you will first notice the chaotic traffic and shabby streets. But don’t worry, before night falls you will be amazed by how close to nature you are. You will see many birds that are hard to spot. Plus, every night at Santander Park , you can see the arrival of scores of parakeets who come here to roost.

A one-hour boat trip away from the crowds is a virgin rainforest. You can go on jungle hikes and night safaris to see the animals that live in the Amazon, from sloths to alligators and many types of birds.

The wax palms in Valle de Cocora, Colombia

Valle de Cocora

High in the Colombian Andes, you’ll find the Valle de Cocora, a valley that’s home to the world’s tallest palm trees. These towering wax palms grow as tall as 200 feet. Unfortunately these trees are threatened by habitat loss, overharvesting, and disease. In an attempt to save the tree, the government declared it the official tree of Colombia and turned the valley into a wildlife sanctuary.

The best way to reach Cocora valley which is part of Los Nevados National Natural Park is by Jeep from Salento , the closest town to the valley. Arriving at the valley is easy but seeing the wax palm trees themselves requires a short trek. 

Salento is one of the most beautiful places in Colombia, a town located in the Coffee Zone (more about that below). The houses here have colorful wood roofs and doors while the walls are whitewashed.

Costeño Beach

If you’re looking for a beautiful and remote beach in Colombia, Costeño Beach is a great option. This beach is only home to a few hotels and hostels, so you’ll have plenty of quiet. There are no towns or shops, just palm trees, and white sand.

If you’re looking for a beautiful, unspoiled beach that’s not too far from Santa Marta , Costeño Beach is a great option. You can enjoy a surf lesson, go horse riding, or have a relaxing massage. However, it is important to note that the beach can be quite rough and is not suitable for swimming.

San Andres Island (Best sunsets in Colombia)

San Andres is a beautiful island that is part of Colombia. Even though it is close to other countries, like Nicaragua and Panama, it is part of the country and it can only be reached by air.

San Andres is a great place for scuba diving because the coral and marine life are very well preserved . People say that it is one of the best places in the world to dive.

If you’re not interested in diving, the sandy beaches are still world-famous. You can access them by driving around the island on the 16 mile-long ring road.

Top beaches in Colombia

Tayrona National Park

Tayrona National Park is a beautiful place to visit in Colombia. It is located on the Caribbean coast near the city of Santa Marta .

There is one main hiking trail in the park. It can be accessed from two locations. One easy way to get the trail is through the El Zaino entrance. The other end of the trail visits many of the beaches within the park.

The national park is located on the coast, so the beaches here are very pretty. Some of the most popular beaches to visit are Cabo San Juan and La Piscina , add them to your list of Colombia best places to visit.

Other sights to enjoy in Colombia

Concordia coffee plantation (near medellin).

Concordia is a region in Colombia that is known for its coffee production. The area around Medellin and Concordia is filled with plantations, most of which are owned by smallholder farmers. The farmers sell their beans to local co-ops, such as Andes and you can visit the Andes warehouse just outside of Jardin (another lovely place to visit in Colombia, a colonial town which means garden in Spanish).

If you want to visit farms and do a coffee tasting, it is worth it to join a tour to Concordia from Medellin. The town is about two hours away by car, so it is possible to visit as a day trip.

Visit a coffee plantation near Medellin Colombia | 12 Best things to do in Colombia | Outside Suburbia

FOR COFFEE LOVERS: If you are a coffee aficionado , then you have heard of Zona Cafetera , a region that is famous for producing the majority of Colombian coffee, often considered the best in the world. The Colombian Coffee Triangle which is also known as the Coffee Zone or Coffee Belt consists of three Colombian departments: Caldas, Risaralda and Quindio . These cities are served by regional airports, with regular flights from the major Colombian cities.

Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City)

You can reach Colombia’s Lost City in a round trip of about 4 days. The ancient archaeological site was built by the native Tayrona in the 9th century. It was largely unknown until about 50 years ago.

A small portion of the ancient city has been uncovered and is open to visitors. The journey to get there is long and difficult, so be prepared for a multi-day hike. You will also need relevant permits to visit the area.

Las Lajas Sanctuary (Colombia’s most spectacular church)

The Las Lajas Sanctuary is a beautiful basilica church located in the south of Colombia, close to the border with Ecuador. There’s an impressive bridge that crosses the Guaitara River and the Gothic architecture of the church is impressive as it rises from the canyon.

Even though it is an important place for Colombian worshipers, the church remains a hidden gem that most foreign travelers are not aware of. Las Lajas attracts many religious believers each year who come from all over the country to pray to the Virgin Mary for a miracle.

Las Lajas Sanctuary

From colorful pueblos , bustling cities, stunning nature reserves, and idyllic beaches, Colombia has it all. Hope this post inspired you to plan your Colombia trip and gave you some ideas for some of the best places to go in Colombia.

PIN IT FOR LATER

Best places to visit in Colombia | Outside Suburbia

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20 amazing places to visit in Colombia

Posted: November 9, 2023 | Last updated: November 9, 2023

Dreaming of escaping the cold with a tropical vacation, but want to stray off the beaten path? Colombia, with its lush nature and vibrant culture, could be just the ticket. Here are 20 incredible places to visit in this South American country that are more than worth the trip.

Rock of Guatapé

<p>To get to this <a href="https://colombia.travel/en/blog/ciudad-perdida-gateway-past-sierra-nevada-de-santa-marta" rel="noreferrer noopener">lost city</a> you’ll need to complete a multi-day guided hike of more than 44 kilometres through the mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Its remote location explains why this lush jungle was only rediscovered in the 1970s. According to scientists, this area was likely home to one of the biggest pre-Columbian settlements in the Americas.</p>

Ciudad Perdida

Located in northern Colombia, <a href="https://www.parquetayrona.com/en/" rel="noreferrer noopener">Tayrona National Park</a> is a protected area featuring wild landscapes, coastal Caribbean lagoons, and flourishing nature. It has some of the most spectacular beaches in the country (they’re also great for snorkelling!) and the impressive archeological site of Pueblito.

Tayrona National Park

The capital of Colombia, <a href="https://colombia.travel/en/bogota" rel="noreferrer noopener">Bogotá</a> is a bustling city that has retained its historical charm. A visit to the country’s largest city wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Plaza de Bolívar and the Teatro Colón, not to mention its many museums, including the Botero Museum, the National Museum of Colombia, and the Gold Museum.

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá

Dreaming of escaping the cold with a tropical vacation, but want to stray off the beaten path? Colombia, with its lush nature and vibrant culture, could be just the ticket. Here are 20 incredible places to visit in this South American country that are more than worth the trip.

Las Lajas Sanctuary

Colombia’s northernmost point, <a href="https://www.lonelyplanet.com/colombia/la-guajira-peninsula" rel="noreferrer noopener">La Guajira Peninsula</a> is an isolated area on the Caribbean coast still inhabited by the indigenous Wayúu people. You can visit this beautiful area with a rich biodiversity by way of Cabo de la Vela, a magical windsurfing and kitesurfing destination.

La Guajira Peninsula

Caño cristales.

Spanning over 330 sq. km, the <a href="https://colombia.travel/en/blog/tatacoa-desert-garden-turned-desert" rel="noreferrer noopener">Tatacoa Desert</a> is currently the second largest dry area in Colombia. You may be surprised to learn, then, that a lush tropical forest stood in its place several million years ago. You can also admire the stars and even meteor showers from its observatory, in an area surrounded by canyons and cacti with minimal light pollution.

Tatacoa Desert

<a href="https://colombia.travel/en/villa-de-leyva" rel="noreferrer noopener">Villa de Leyva</a>, one of the most beautiful cities in Colombia. Located a mere three-hour drive from Bogotá, a stroll through its charming streets will allow you to admire its colonial architecture and make you feel like you’ve travelled back in time. Make sure to check out Plaza Mayor, the largest Spanish square in the country. If you’re interested in paleontology, you’ll be delighted to learn that the area harbours many fossils from the Cretaceous era.

Villa de Leyva

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the <a href="https://whc.unesco.org/en/soc/434/" rel="noreferrer noopener">San Agustín Archeological Park</a> features hundreds of pre-Columbian statues and a large collection of megalithic sculptures, not to mention a breathtaking view of the Andes. It’s a must-see stop for history buffs.

San Agustín Archeological Park

Those who venture to the island of <a href="https://colombia.travel/en/san-andres-island" rel="noreferrer noopener">San Andrés</a> will be rewarded with beautiful white sand beaches and clear waters. It is also one of Colombia’s best places to go diving and admire the coral reefs. Between April and July, you can also witness the migration of the black land crabs as they journey to the sea.

Cocora Valley

Composed of more than 30 islands near Cartagena, this <a href="https://www.colombia-travels.com/caribbean/rosario-islands" rel="noreferrer noopener">archipelago</a> is one of the most beautiful national parks in Colombia. With its crystal clear waters and rich marine biodiversity, it’s a perfect destination for water sports enthusiasts. Bendita Beach and Isla Grande are just a few of the magical places where you can relax and enjoy the sun and sea.

Rosario Islands

Spanning over 17 kilometres on the Caribbean coast in the north of Colombia, <a href="https://colombia.travel/en/providencia" rel="noreferrer noopener">Providencia</a> is an idyllic island where you can also find the beautiful McBean Lagoon National Park. Golden beaches, mangrove forests, and a huge coral reef await you just a few hours by boat from San Andrés.

Providencia

Not far from Villa de Leyva sits <a href="https://colombiatravelreporter.com/raquira-the-pottery-capital-of-colombia/" rel="noreferrer noopener">Raquira</a>, a colourful and vibrant town known for its thriving art scene—so much so that it’s also known as the pottery capital of Colombia. Here, you can buy unique handicrafts and explore the local market to get a better feel for the Colombian culture.

Coffee Triangle

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13 things to know before visiting Colombia

Feb 29, 2024 • 9 min read

cultural places to visit in colombia

From health and safety to etiquette, these tips can help you plan your trip to Colombia © jeremykingnz / Shutterstock

Whether you’re drawn by its beguiling coastlines , untamed jungle or high-altitude national parks , Colombia is guaranteed to dazzle.

After decades of association with armed conflict and drug cartels, this South American country has moved well beyond those dark decades, emerging from that chapter of history as one of the continent’s most thrilling and welcoming destinations to explore . 

Travelers to Colombia should prepare for a trip that will leave them wishing they never had a return ticket, thanks to the country’s remarkably warm and friendly people and uniquely Latin spirit.

Follow these tips on planning and health and safety to ensure a truly unforgettable trip to Colombia.

1. Don't attempt to see all of Colombia in one trip

A big mistake that even seasoned travelers have made is to try and pack too much into a trip around Colombia. Before trying to squeeze every last corner of the country into a two-week itinerary, cast your eyes over the map.

Stick to exploring one section of the country and exploring it well: spend three weeks bouncing between sun-soaked,  Caribbean beaches or heading from Medellín deep into the Zona Cafetera . Your trip should match Colombia’s characteristic pace: slow and enjoyable. 

2. Domestic flights are affordable and quick

If you’re still planning to cram as many places as possible into a short trip, Colombia’s wealth of low-cost airlines offer the most efficient way of getting around (although there's your carbon footprint to consider too).

While nothing quite compares with the cultural experience of taking a regional bus (where you’ll be “entertained” by deafening music for the duration), increasingly cheap fares are available for domestic flights.

Don’t be fooled by headline prices, these typically don’t include checked baggage. Peak traveling seasons (December through mid-January, Semana Santa and June through August) will add a premium and can sell out rapidly, so book flights in advance if visiting during these months.

Woman walks across a bridge in the wind in Medellín, Colombia

3. Pack for all weather

Whether you’re hitting the Caribbean coast or heading to the rainier climes of the capital,  Bogotá , you can expect to experience a full array of weather conditions.

While Colombia officially has two distinct seasons – the dry season (December through February and July through August) and the rainy season (April, May, and September through November) – because of the country’s variation in altitudes and ecosystems, you’ll probably experience all four seasons in one trip.

As a rule, the Caribbean coast is hot and humid, while Bogotá and the wider Andean regions receive a surfeit of rain. Come prepared with plenty of layers, including a warm, easy-to-pack rain jacket, and you’ll be primed to adapt to whatever the weather might throw at you.

4. A little Spanish will get you a long way

For a country so long enveloped by violent conflict, Colombia today is a remarkably open and welcoming destination for international travelers. Wherever you are, it’s easy to strike up a conversation with the owner of a restaurant, your taxi driver or a local enjoying the sunshine in a city plaza (and they’ll be delighted if you do!).

Knowing more than the basics of Spanish can go a long way, spurring engaging, fascinating conversations about Colombian culture, football, history and politics.

Colombian Spanish, particularly in Bogotá and Medellín, is considered one of the easiest to understand in Latin America because Colombians tend to enunciate their words. Make the most of affordable language schools in both cities to get some practice in before you head out into the rest of the country.

5. There are checkpoints with a strong military presence

When traveling in rural parts of Colombia, it’s not uncommon to come across road checkpoints staffed by army personnel, who’ll often ask to see your documents before waving you on your way.

In areas recently opened to tourism, you might even spot tanks and other military vehicles stationed alongside roads. 

While it might seem intimidating, the strong military presence around the country is there for the safety of the local people – and you. Be polite and have the correct paperwork (either your actual passport or a photocopy of the main page and entry stamp) with you, and you’ll rarely have an issue.

A colorful chiva bus pulls into a street in Yolombó, Antioquia, Colombia

6. Don’t expect punctuality

Like much of Latin America, Colombian culture isn’t known for its strict adherence to the clock, and a punctuality-obsessed traveler is often a disappointed one. “Colombian time” is practically its own time zone, and you should leave any notions of timeliness at home.

To avoid getting frustrated, relax and embrace being flexible – really, the only way to deal with the typically laid-back Colombian attitude toward life, the universe and pretty much everything.

While big, inter-regional buses and flights do tend to leave on time, tight schedules aren't followed in many other contexts. If you’re making an appointment with a Colombian person or waiting for a rural colectivo to depart, bring a book as you may well be waiting up to an hour beyond the agreed time.

7. Drugs and talking about that Netflix show are big no-nos

If there’s one way to annoy Colombians, it’s to get onto a topic that many Western tourists, despite Colombian’s attempts to dissuade them, continue to associate with the country: drugs. Illegal substances are a taboo subject in Colombia, and despite (or more likely, because of) the country’s history, few Colombians take them.

Residents of Medellín, in particular, are fed up with the city’s association with drug cartels and with tourists who go there to use cocaine, which is illegal and could see you getting into a lot of trouble if caught. 

When traveling in Colombia, don’t mention Narcos , either. Colombians are frustrated with the Netflix show’s portrayal of the country and what they see as the exaltation of a mass murderer.

Show some respect and steer clear of the many Pablo Escobar tours, too. Listening to local people's experiences during the drug-war years is likely to be far more informative and accurate.

8. Taxis will help you get around safely

While safety is no longer the same overwhelming concern it once was, taking taxis when traveling between neighborhoods in big cities across Colombia is a sensible choice.

Wandering around at night, particularly after you’ve had a shot of heady aguardiente or two, is often an invitation to opportunist thieves.

Taxis are extremely affordable and relatively painless if using a ride-share app, such as Cabify or Uber . Hailing a taxi can leave you open to scams or worse, so calling for a cab (or asking your hotel to) is recommended. Always confirm the price or check that the taxi has a working meter before entering a vehicle.

A drag queen dressed in a colorful rainbow-patterned dress draped with beads strikes a pose at an outdoor Pride event

9. Bogotá has a well-established gay scene

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Colombia in early 1980s, and the first same-sex marriage ceremony was performed in 2013 – evidence that this country has some of the more progressive attitudes toward LGBTIQ+ rights in Latin America.

Bogotá has a well-established gay scene, with bars and nightlife mostly found in Chapinero, one of the city’s most dynamic neighborhoods . Some lodgings and restaurants are beginning to advertise themselves as gay-friendly.

Despite its progressive laws, much of Colombian society remains traditionalist, and many same-sex couples still feel unsafe showing affection in public. For more information specifically for LGBTIQ+ travelers, check out Guia Gay Colombia. 

10. Tipping isn’t obligatory, but it is appreciated

Dining out in Colombia is extremely affordable.

When you go to pay the bill at fancier or more upmarket restaurants, it’s likely you’ll be asked if you want to include the propina (tip), typically around 10% of the cost of the meal.

Service in restaurants, cafes and bars across Colombia is generally much better than in many other parts of South America , so unless you had a terrible experience, consider paying the tip to show your appreciation. 

A female cyclist rides through the Paramo in the Andes Mountains of Boyacá, Colombia, South America

11. Traveling is safe – but stick to the beaten track

Colombia has experienced an about-face in the past few decades, shedding its title as one of Latin America’s most dangerous countries and coming into its own as a worthy travel destination.

It all comes down to the history-making peace accords signed in 2016 between the Colombian government and the FARC, which, after five decades of conflict, have led to many rural parts of the country finally shifting from no-go areas into welcoming places for visitors.

However, it still isn’t wise to go too far off the beaten path. Some rural areas remain dangerous because of their links with neo-paramilitary and drug-trafficking groups, particularly along the borders with Panama, Venezuela and Ecuador.

Before traveling anywhere unusual, always research the situation on the ground as well as your government’s travel advisories.

12. Scams and muggings do happen

While safety has improved significantly, you should always “ no dar papaya .” This delightful idiom – which literally translates to “don’t give papaya” – means you should always keep your wits about you, staying alert to those who would take advantage of you.

In practice, this means following common-sense guidelines: don’t wander down dark, empty streets at night, don’t head out into neighborhoods you don’t know without checking their safety first and don’t flap about the city with an expensive camera or phone on display.

Travel insurance is essential because muggings are, unfortunately still an issue in cities such as Bogota, Cali and Medellín.

You should never resist if someone tries to rob you. Distraction techniques are those used most fruitfully by would-be thieves, so always be wary of people coming up to you in the street or being asked to show your money to scammers posing as police officers.

If things do go wrong, head to the nearest police station immediately to report the crime. The police will put together a report and give you a copy, which you’ll need to make an insurance claim.

13. Don’t let this country’s history scare you away

Colombia has come on leaps and bounds since the dark days of the 1980s and 1990s, and its residents are more than excited to show you their beautiful and wonderfully diverse country.

The biggest mistake you can make is to let Netflix or historic newspaper headlines scare you away: this is a country that just about every traveler can’t help but fall in love with. The biggest danger when visiting Colombia? Finding yourself never wanting to leave.

This article was first published May 2022 and updated February 2024

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COMMENTS

  1. The Best Cultural Sights to Visit in Colombia

    Los Katíos National Park. Located in Northwest Colombia and stretching over 72,000ha (177,915ac) Los Katíos is a Unesco-protected national park that is home to an abundance of rare and endangered animals, as well as a diverse wilderness that stretches from rainforests to mountains. The park also holds the world's fastest river - the ...

  2. 13 of the best places to visit in Colombia

    11. Parque Nacional Natural Serranía de La Macarena. Best for natural spectacles. Due south of Bogotá, Parque Nacional Natural Serranía de La Macarena is one of the most incredible places to visit in Colombia. Just a short drive from the town of La Macarena, Caño Cristales is a river that runs vivid pink.

  3. 31 Best Places to Visit in Colombia in 2023: Cities & Nature

    Best places to visit in Colombia: Beaches & islands. 27. The Rosario Islands, pristine beaches & reefs. 28. San Andres Island, the best sunsets in Colombia. 29. Taganga, one of the best places to visit in Colombia for diving. 30. Tayrona National Park, where the jungle meets the ocean.

  4. 20 Best Places to Visit in Colombia

    Tatacoa Desert. oscar garces/Getty Images. The Tatacoa Desert is the second-largest arid environment in Colombia, after the dune-studded La Guajira at the northern tip of South America. However ...

  5. 14 Top-Rated Attractions & Places to Visit in Colombia

    14. Nuqui. 1. Cartagena. Cartagena. Cartagena is the crown jewel of Colombia's Caribbean coast and one of the best-preserved colonial destinations in the Americas. Take a stroll through the historic walled city, and you may feel as if you've stepped back in time to a different era.

  6. 21 Must-See Places to Visit in Colombia (Updated 2024)

    1. Cartagena. Cartagena is one of the most visited destinations in Colombia (thanks to a lot of direct flights and cruise ship visits). Dating back to 1533, the city is famed for its colonial Old Town: a maze of cobbled alleys, flower-covered balconies, and giant churches on spacious plazas.

  7. 29 Unforgettable Things to Do in Colombia: The Ultimate List

    Try the tasting menu at Leo in Bogota - one of the best things to do in Colombia for gastronomes. Have an unforgettable Colombian dining experience at the original Andres Carne de Res. Stand in South America's biggest plaza in Villa de Leyva. Tour the incredible Zipaquira Salt Cathedral. Enjoy an open-air spa at the El Totumo Mud Volcano.

  8. 14 best things to do in Colombia in 2024

    Whether you're seeking adventure, history, showstopping nature or a fabulous party, here are the top things to do in Colombia. 1. Photograph Colombia's national plant in the Valle de Cocora. Adjoining the lower reaches of Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados, one of the best national parks for hiking in Colombia, the Valle de Cocora is one ...

  9. Unmasking Colombia's Hidden Gems: The Best Places to Visit

    Colombia's tourism is skyrocketing, ranking as the second fastest growing tourist destination globally. The rich blend of history, landscapes, and culture makes Colombia an unparalleled experience. Cartagena is a top pick, but Colombia's vastness promises so much more. Gabriel Garcia Marquez wasn't kidding: Colombia is indeed the epitome ...

  10. 31 Best Places to Visit in Colombia: Adventure & Relaxation

    6. Get your adrenaline pumping in San Gil. Leaving the north coast, thrill-seekers will revel in visiting San Gil, the adventure sports capital of Colombia. There is no shortage of things to do, as visitors can choose between zip-lining, abseiling, white-water rafting, kayaking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.

  11. Best places to visit in Colombia

    Know here more about best places to visit in Colombia! Behind the magic of Colombian tourism sites In the heart of Bogota, in one of the most traditional neighbors in the country - La Candelaria-, and surrounded by street art, a charming Colombian spot is waiting. ... Colombia's culture is so astonishingly diverse, expressions vary wildly ...

  12. Best Places to Visit in Colombia: Must-See Destinations

    In this guide, we'll unveil the best places to visit in Colombia, offering a blend of rich cultural heritage, stunning landscapes, and thrilling adventures. Whether you're drawn to vibrant cities, lush rainforests, or historic sites, Colombia has it all. ... This museum is a true gem that showcases the richness and diversity of Colombia's ...

  13. 20 BEST Places to Visit in Colombia (2024 Guide!)

    17. Leticia. A monkey on Isla de Los Micos, Leticia, Colombia. The Amazon jungle is one of the must-visit places in the world. But, what many people don't know is that you can visit the Amazon Jungle in Colombia. Leticia is just one of a few places to visit the Amazon in Colombia, but in my opinion, the best choice.

  14. 61 Best Things to Do in Colombia (After 8 Years in The Country)

    30# Horseback riding in Colombia. Los llanos Orientales in Colombia is where the Llaneros or herders use horseback riding to move between farms, herding cattle, etc. Casanare and Meta's departments are your best bet to live the whole llanero lifestyle. Staying in one of the hatos or haciendas is now possible.

  15. 21 Famous Landmarks in Colombia: Natural + Historical

    Located in the Santander Department of Colombia, it is one of the best places to visit in the nearby town of San Gil. The Canyon is known as the second largest canyon in the world, with an area of 108,000 hectares (270,000 acres), a maximum depth of 2,000 meters (6,600 ft), and a length of 227 kilometers (141 mi).

  16. Bucket list of places to visit in Colombia| Colombia Travel

    Discover some bucket list visits that represent the urban culture of Colombia. Colombia's big cities enrich the country with their style, tradition, and art. Not only do they embody the past, but they also build a future every day through a refreshing urban landscape. 3. Walk among urban art in Medellín.

  17. 14 Inspiring Things to Do in Colombia: Latin America's Most Magical

    If you want to go back even further in time, then visit Ciudad Perdida, an ancient city built sometime between the 11 th and 14 th centuries. We also love that Colombia has seen such a turnaround recently. The second city, Medellin, has gone from a place with a violent reputation to a great tourist destination.

  18. 17 BEST Places To Visit In Colombia

    5. If you have some time, I recommend visiting Explora Park. It's an impressive science museum with a nice aquarium and lots of interactive science games. Best places to visit in Medellin, Colombia: Comuna 13, Plaza Botero, Museo Casa de la Memoria, Museum of Antioquia, Park Arvi, Explora Park, El Poblado.

  19. 12 Most Beautiful Places in Colombia to Visit

    6. San Agustín Archaeological Park. A visit to the San Agustín Archaeological Park takes you back in time to a mysterious ancient civilization. Nestled in the lush mountains of southern Colombia, this archaeological wonder is one of the most important authentic places to visit in Colombia.

  20. Ultimate Colombia Itinerary: Best Places To Visit In Colombia

    Time Needed: 4-5 days. Santa Marta is one of the best places to visit in Colombia and one of our personal favourites. There's so much to see and do in the area, especially for outdoor and nature lovers. Explore the nearby town of Taganga, where you can relax on tropical beaches or take a boat trip on the ocean.

  21. 12 Cool Places to Visit in Colombia • Outside Suburbia Family

    12 Best Places to Visit in Colombia (must-visit places in Colombia) City Life Cartagena, Tops our list of Colombia places to visit. The port city of Cartagena was founded in 1533. It is known for its vibrant architecture and culture, which has earned it a spot on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites. Cartagena is a city on the Caribbean ...

  22. 20 amazing places to visit in Colombia

    Colombia, with its lush nature and vibrant culture, could be just the ticket. Here are 20 incredible places to visit in this South American country that are more than worth the trip.

  23. 13 things to know before traveling to Colombia

    Stick to exploring one section of the country and exploring it well: spend three weeks bouncing between sun-soaked, Caribbean beaches or heading from Medellín deep into the Zona Cafetera. Your trip should match Colombia's characteristic pace: slow and enjoyable. 2. Domestic flights are affordable and quick.