There are many beautiful places to visit in Colombia.
Colorful colonial towns and massive cities; pristine Caribbean beaches with the clearest turquoise waters and the breathtaking peak of the Andes; thick forests to get lost in and coffee plantations; and welcoming, genuine, friendly people – this, and the fact that it’s finally shaken off its reputation of being a dangerous country, has brought Colombia on many travelers’ agenda.
The good news is that Colombia is as beautiful as they say. Yet, unless you have three months to invest in your trip, you won’t be able to see everything it has to offer. Not only it is huge and with lots of interesting places to visit; but the two mountain chains that cross it from north to south make moving around by bus a bit more difficult and you’ll see that covering a distance of just 300 km will take you the entire day.
So here’s a tip: carefully pick what you want to see and make a plan – but leave some room to be spontaneous. Don’t know where to start exploring? Continue reading to discover the best places to visit in Colombia, as selected by me and other fellow travel bloggers.
The Best Places To Visit In Colombia
*Contributed by Daniel, Layer Culture
When looking for the best places to visit in Colombia be sure to add Capurgana to your list. Located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast in the department of Choco, Capurgana is an eco-travelers paradise. The best thing is that this is an off the beaten track location for most travelers to Colombia.
Since the location is disconnected from Colombia’s mainland, you’ll not find any cars or vehicles here. Instead, expect to find virgin beaches, lush green palm trees, and waterfalls all surrounded by mountains and rainforests.
Once you arrive at this hidden paradise you’ll find warm smiles from the locals as they help you unload your luggage off the boat. Snorkeling, diving, and other water activities such as boat rides are on offer.
One of the main attractions is the Coquerita which is a group of giant manmade whirlpools that you can sit in and relax by the sea. As well as hiking and going even further off the beaten track, Capurgana is the perfect place to chill and relax in Colombia.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Visitors can travel to Capurgana via plane or bus from Medellin. For the full adventure, you’ll want to travel by bus to Necocli, then take the exhilarating speed boat ride across the Gulf of Urabá. You’ll spend one hour seeing nothing but pure ocean views before arriving at the port in Capurgana.
San Andres Island
*Contributed by Bailey, Destinationless Travel
San Andres Island is one of the most unique places to visit in Colombia. This tiny island is stunning, and although technically part of Colombia, it is actually geographically closer to Nicaragua. Located smack dab in the Caribbean Sea, San Andres is an isolated piece of paradise over 200 kilometers from the mainland!
San Andres Island is a small island paradise. And when I say “small”, I mean it! There is a road that wraps around the perimeter of the entire island and it is only 26 kilometers long! Rent a buggy, scooter, or even golf cart (get yours here) and you can explore the entire island easily stopping at remote (and picturesque) beaches along the way.
Besides beaches, there are lots of other things to do at San Andres Island. Be sure to go scuba diving (you can sign up for that here), snorkeling at Johnny Cay, walk the sandbar to Rocky Cay, see wild iguanas, have cocktails on the beach, and just simply relax!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: San Andres Island can only be reached by plane. Flights are cheap and depart regularly from various cities in Colombia including Cartagena and Bogota. Although return flights often will cost you less than $100 USD, keep in mind that you will have to pay a fee of 112,500 COP to visit the island. This fee is used to preserve and protect the island and is only a small price to pay to visit such a gorgeous place!
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984, Cartagena is definitely one of the best places to visit in Colombia. The city sits on the Caribbean coast and often is the starting point of a trip around the country. Founded in 1533, the city is famous for its colorful, well kept Old City – packed with well kept examples of colonial architecture; for its unique Caribbean vibe; and for the Palenqueras – women dressed in colorful costumes that can be spotted around town selling fruit and other snacks.
While the beaches are nothing to write home about, the city is gorgeous and worth spending a few days exploring.
The main attractions are located in the walled city: that’s where you’ll be able to see the beautiful Porta del Reloj (the clocktower), the well kept cathedral and where you’ll find the best museums in town. Make sure not to miss Plaza Santo Domingo; San Diego neighborhood; Getsemani -which is right outside the walls and home to some great examples of street art; Paseo de Las Bovedas covered market and the Castillo de San Felipe, from where you can catch the best views of Cartagena.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Cartagena is connected to the rest of Colombia as well as North America by plane, thanks to its Rafael Nunez International Airport. You can also count on an incredible web of buses taking you to a multitude of destinations.
Make sure to check out my other posts about Cartagena:
- 31 Incredible Things To Do In Cartagena
- 15 Useful Things To Know Before Visiting Cartagena
- The Best Day Trips From Cartagena
- Where To Stay In Cartagena – The Best Neighborhoods And Places To Stay
- The Best Airbnb In Cartagena
Islas del Rosario
Easily visited on day trips from Cartagena, but a fantastic place to spend a few days just relaxing, the archipelago of Islas del Rosario is located at about 35 km south of town, and composed of 27 beautiful islands. Isla del Rosario and Isla Grande are the largest one and have the best accommodation options, whereas other islands are so small that nobody can possibly live there. Declared a national park in 1998, this is a place of gorgeous clear waters where swimming, diving and snorkeling are a must.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: You can visit the Islas del Rosario independently – there are boats leaving at 8:00, 9:00 and 10:00 am from El Muelle La Bodeguita (just outside the walled city), or on a guided tour that depart from the same place and brings you back to town at 4:00 pm. You can book it here.
*Contributed by Ellie Ewert, Ellie’s Travel Tips
Santa Marta is a fascinating city filled with pristine beaches, diverse landscapes, and rich history, making it a truly remarkable destination embraced by all types of visitors. The city’s unique terrain is most notable for its unforgettable landscapes where the turquoise sea, bright sand and sun, green foliage, and white-peaked mountains coexist.
To learn about the captivating culture of Tayrona, you must stop in at the Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona. As one of the most beautiful bays in America, this nature reserve is home to white sands, crystal-clear waters, and breathtaking sunrises. Another stop you should add to your adventure is the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino— one of Colombia’s major national monuments known as the residence of Simón Bolívar.
One activity you definitely won’t want to miss is checking out Taganga. There are no traces of industrialization in this town as time seemingly stands still. Everything you can find in this town is artisanal, with the sandy shoreline offering a beautiful view affirming the area’s diversity.
When visiting Santa Marta, you can easily use taxis and buses to any attractions, restaurants, or accommodations. Make sure to try out some of Santa Marta’s local dishes like fried fish, arroz con coco, cocadas, chipi chipi, and patacones on your Colombian vacation!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Santa Marta is connected to the rest of Colombia by plane through its Simon Bolivar International Airport. It’s around 4.5 hours drive from Cartagena.
Once nothing more than a fishing village, Taganga became a favorite spot in the backpacker community, and especially among those who love diving. Not far from the shore you will find a great reef with incredible marine life. There are plenty of diving centers in the village, and you can even get certified if you want.
Other than diving, the main attraction in Taganga is the vibe. This is the kind of place where you can simply relax, taking in a fabulous sunset and enjoying a meal of fresh fish and seafood.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Taganga is an easy 15 minutes drive from Santa Marta. You can even go there by bike. For more information click here.
*Contributed by Gemma, Two Scots Abroad
While Minca is one of the more remote areas in Colombia, it sees its fair share of backpackers bundling their bags off trucks and taxis dropping them off from Santa Marta.
The reason visitors head to the mountain village of Minca in the Sierra Nevada is to chill for a few days among lush vegetation and colorful birds. Since you are traveling up a mountain, many of the hostels in Minca require light trekking or a bumpy bike ride. Consider this when packing your bags.
Like most places to visit in Colombia, you can travel solo to Minca and still meet friends, especially as hostels promote a community vibe where you dine together.
While you can visit on a day trip from Santa Marta (such as this one), it is recommended you stay over to experience the changing light and temperatures of Colombia’s jungle.
Aside from relaxing, other things to do include hiking and checking out waterfalls such as Las Cascadas De Marinka, Las Piedras and Pozo Azul. Plan to visit Marinka early in the morning to beat the afternoon crowds.
If you like coffee and don’t plan to visit the Coffee Triangle, check out La Victoria plantation for a guided tour.
‘The’ Instagram photo to take in Minca was one of you on the giant hammock. However, it looks as though this backpacking tradition has come to an end with the closure of the hostel. You’ll have to create the next Minca bucket list photo opp!
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Minca is at 45 minutes drive from Santa Marta.
Tayrona National Park
*Contributed by Sean Lau, LivingOutLau
No Colombia itinerary is complete without a visit to Tayrona National Park, a large protected area containing some of the best beaches of Colombia, incredible biodiversity and archaeological ruins. Situated in the northern region of Colombia, Tayrona National Park is easily accessible from the city of Santa Marta.
While Tayrona National Park can be easily visited on a day trip, most visitors decide to spend the night in the park to fully immerse themselves in nature. There are a handful of accommodations such as eco-lodges inside the park, but camping in Tayrona National Park is usually the popular option.
A total of four big campsites dot the 150-kilometer squared park, but the most popular one is Cabo San Juan. Two fine-sand beaches are located in Cabo San Juan, and their refreshingly turquoise water are perfect after a trek through the jungle to arrive here. Tayrona’s most iconic feature is the Cabo San Juan watchtower that juts into the ocean. Here visitors can rent hammocks for the night and drift off to the sound of crashing waves and wake up to charming birdsongs and a glorious sunrise.
Many of these beaches are only accessible via hikes through the dense jungles of Tayrona, which makes them even more satisfying. Along the way, you might run into the indigenous tribe that lives inside Tayrona National Park. Worry not, they are friendly and you might even see tribe members selling coconuts at times.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Tayrona National Park is at about 30 minuted drive (34 kilometers, or 21 miles) from Santa Marta. As an effort to keep a good relationship between the government and the indigenous tribe, Tayrona National Park is closed around February every year. Make sure you check with the official site before planning your trip!
*Contributed by Isabella Biava, Boundless Roads
If you are planning a trip to Colombia, and you are an outdoorsy and nature lover, you must include a 4-day trek to La Ciudad Perdida. Also known as the Lost City, this is an archeological site built by the Tyrona civilization 600 years before Machu Picchu but brought to light from the thick jungle only a few decades ago.
The only way to get to La Ciudad Perdida is on a 4-day hike, which is suitable for anyone with a decent physical condition who is willing to walk for about 6 to 7 hours per day. The elevation gain is never more than 600 meters and the altitude is around 1200 meters.
You will need to carry your own backpack, while the food is carried by donkeys and water comes from the rivers. Make sure you pack light, though. You can leave your main bags in your hostel or hotel in Santa Marta, the pretty town where the tour starts and ends.
It’s a fantastic hike through lush and thick vegetation interrupted by breathtaking views. The campsites where you will get at the end of your daily hike are very simple but comfortable. You will sleep either in a bunk bed or a hammock, on a first come first serve basis. Both are wrapped up in a mosquito net. Every site is located by a river or a lake where you can jump in and cool off after a long walk – so relaxing.
If you are “lucky” you can even have some extra excitement, such as being woken up in the middle of the night by a loud cry. I found out in the morning that it was one of the guardians who found a poisonous snake making his/her way into the camp underneath the beds. He killed it with a machete… not sure I was happy about the killing. But I was certainly happy I didn’t meet it personally. Anyway, that was one of the fun or scary travel experiences you can have to spice up your adventures.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The only way you can visit the Ciudad Perdida, is by joining an organized tour purchased in one of the only 5 authorized agencies in Colombia (Expotur, Magic Tour, Guías y Baquianos Tour, Wiwa Tour, Turcol). You can book your Ciudad Perdida trek here or here.
*Contributed by Jyotsna Ramani, Wander With Jo
Have you ever visited one of the most extreme points in the world? Well, Punta Gallinas in the vast desert of La Guajira, is the northernmost tip of South America. I would say it is one of the best places to visit in Colombia hand’s down and must be included in your itinerary.
If you seek extraordinary landscapes that are barren, wild, and endless – this is the place to be. Be prepared to rough it out a bit and sleep on hammocks under the stars on windy desert nights (though it certainly adds charm to the destination).
You can learn about the local desert tribe of Wayuu, visit the Faro lighthouse, navigate through boundless dunes that eventually melt into the ocean, or simply be amazed at how flora, fauna, and people survive in harsh desert conditions.
Remember you will have to embark on a bumpy 4X4 ride and take a boat to a very basic home stay option. There is no luxury in the desert and the journey is long and back-breaking but totally worth the effort.
No matter what the reason for your visit to this extreme point might be – Punta Gallinas should certainly be on your bucket list.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: To get to Punta Gallinas, you first have to travel to Riohacha, which is connected to Santa Marta, Barranquilla and Cartagena by bus. From there, hop on a 4WD to go all the way to Punta Gallinas.
Known as the adventure capital of Colombia, this small town in the Santander Department fully lives up to its reputation and offers an incredible array of activities to anybody in search of a bit of adrenaline. Rafting on Rio Suarez; mountain biking in the Chicamocha Canyon; bungee jumping over the Fonce River; paragliding in Curiti or (again) in Chicamocha National Park (home of one of the longest cable cars in the world); waterfall rappelling; zip lining, rock climbing and more – it’s incredible how such a small place has so much to offer.
And if you need a break from all the workout, a 30-minutes taxi ride will take you to the gorgeous swimming hole of Pozo Azul. Other swimming holes are Pescaderito and those at Juan Curi. Make sure not to miss a walk through Parque el Gallineral, an easy 10 minutes walk from the center of San Gil.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Buses to San Gil are available from Cartagena (17 hours via Barranquilla); Bogotà (7 hours); Medellin (11 hours) and Bucaramanga (the closest airport, at about 3 hours). There also are daily direct buses to Villa de Leyva.
If you are considering visiting San Gil, make sure to read my post An Excellent Guide To San Gil, Colombia.
Thought to be Colombia’s pretties village, Barichara is one of the best places to visit in Colombia. Just picture a series of cobbled alleys, bright white buildings, tiled roofs and the airy Parque Para Las Artes, the local main square. Add the Iglesia de Santa Barbara – AKA Barichara’s Cathedral, and you have plenty to keep busy for a half-day trip.
Barichara is the best place in Colombia to try the hormigas culonas – literally “big ass ants.” Finally, it’s the starting point of the Camino Real, a long stone trail used by the Guane indigenous to walk through the Chicamocha Canyon and to Guane. It takes about 3 hours to complete the walk.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Barichara can be reached by bus from San Gil (about 1 hour) or you can visit during mountain biking trips across the Chicamocha Canyon.
*Contributed by Claire Sturzaker, Tales of a Backpacker
If you want to get off the beaten track, Guadalupe is one of the best places to visit in Colombia. This tiny village in the Santander region north of Bogota and 2 hours south of San Gil is known for “Las Gachas”, a river with natural jacuzzis – small but deep natural pools which formed in the stone riverbed.
The river looks red thanks to the stone and has been called the “Caño Cristales” of Santander, although in Guadalupe the red color stays all year around as long as there is water in the river. Take a gentle dip in the pools or slide along the rock to plunge into the pools if you’re feeling brave!
Guadalupe has become more well-known in Colombia and is now a popular weekend or day trip for people from Bucaramanga, Bogota, and even Medellin, but it is still blissfully quiet during the week. Spend a few days here to enjoy Colombian village life, go hiking to waterfalls and take a swim in the natural pools at La Gloria.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: To get to Guadalupe you can also take a bus from Bogota towards Bucaramanga and get off at Oiba. From here, jeeps shuttle locals and visitors to Guadalupe every couple of hours. It takes a while to get there, but it is definitely worth the effort!
Villa de Leyva
This pleasant, small colonial town is one of the prettiest in Colombia and t was declared a National Monument in 1954. While you can easily explore it in a day, I wholeheartedly recommend staying a bit longer to also enjoy the beautiful surroundings. A favorite of locals and tourists, Villa de Leyva is packed with colonial charm. Picture cobblestone streets, white-washed colonial buildings and gardens pouring with colorful flowers and you get the idea.
The main sights in town include the massive town square (Plaza Mayor) and the Museo Paleontologico. Make sure to visit at least one of the many art galleries and to browse at one of the many souvenir shops. Other interesting places to visit are the Terracotta House, which is slightly outside of town; the Laguna de Iquaque; the archeological site of El Infiernito and the Convento del Santo Ecce Homo.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Villa de Leyva can be reached by bus from Bogota (160 km, between 3 and 3.5 hours) and San Gil (about 4 hours). You can go there on day trips from Bogotà, in which case you are definitely better off with a guided tour such as this one.
Make sure to read my post A Concise Guide To Villa De Leyva, Colombia.
For the longest time, Bogota was being avoided by most traveler exploring Colombia. Yet, the Colombian capital is an incredible city, with a fun vibe and lots of interesting places to visit. Founded in 1538 with the name of Santa Fe de Bogota and located at a whopping 2600 meters above sea level, with more than 8 million people this is the largest city in the country and one of the largest in South America.
The main things to do in Bogota include exploring La Candelaria, the colonial old town; visiting Plaza Bolivar and the beautiful Catedral Primada; riding the cable car to Cerro Montserrate, located at 3200 meters above sea level and from where you can enjoy impressive views of the city; and enjoying one of its many museums – Museo del Oro, Museo Botero and the Nacional Museum are the best in town.
Slightly outside the historic center, Zona Rosa is the best spot for nightlife; whereas Chapinero and Usaquen are great barrios for restaurants and cafés.
If you happen to be in town on a Sunday, head to Carrera Septima, which you will completely close to traffic, and people go around by bike, inline skates and simply jog.
TIP: To make the most of Bogota, consider joining a guided tour such as this Bogota full day grand city tour.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Bogota is served by El Dorado International Airport and also connected by bus to the rest of the country.
These posts about Bogota will come in handy:
- 19 Unmissable Things To Do In Bogota
- A Complete Guide To Where To Stay In Bogota
- The Best Airbnbs In Bogota
- 7 Great Day Trips From Bogota
*Contributed by Stefan Arestis, Nomadic Boys
Medellin is Colombia’s second city, nicknamed “the City of Eternal Spring” due to its temperate weather. It certainly is one of the best cities to visit in Colombia. It’s located in the country’s Coffee Region, making it the ideal base to explore the cute picturesque small towns like Guatape, Jardín and Salento.
Medellin itself is a very modern and progressive city, full of bars, hotels, malls and top – particularly in the Poblado area. To give you an idea of how progressive Medellin is, it’s the only city in all Colombia (to date!) that has a working metro system. You should definitely take a ride on Medellin’s metro, particularly the cable car from Acevedo metro station to Arvi Park. It starts at 1,900 meters and rises all the way to 2,700 meters, so you can just imagine how stunning the views across the city and the valley beyond are!
When it comes to food, Medellin has some top restaurants to check out. The main staple to try here is “Bandeja Paisa”. It is not only one of the most famous traditional Colombian foods but also particularly popular in Medellin, where it originates. It is a calorific platter which includes avocado, rice, beefsteak, fried plantains, fried pork crackling and a fried egg!
Finally, the top not-to-miss attraction is the outdoor Plaza Botero Museum in downtown Medellin with the eccentric gigantic nude statues of people/animals. Make sure to also visit the Museo Casa de la Memoria, dedicate to the city’s past, and Comuna 13, where you’ll find the city’s best street art (book your guided tour of Comuna 13 graffiti here).
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Medellin is well connected to the rest of Colombia by bus and by plane. It’s airport is Jose Cordova International Airport.
Guatapé and La Pedra del Peñol
*Contributed by Pubali & Indranil, Paradise Catchers
Guatapé, located 50 miles / 80 km from Medellin, is another great place to visit in Colombia. Climb the El Peñón de Guatape or the Rock of Guatapé and explore the colorful town walking on the cobblestone streets. You can spend a few days in the town or can also visit Guatape as a day trip from Medellin such as this one.
El Peñón de Guatapé, also known as La Piedra del Peñol, is a 200 meters high inselberg. The huge rock having a round hill-like structure is based on a flat platform. You will have to climb around 700 steps to reach the top of the rock. While 700 steps sound a lot, the views of the Peñol-Guatapé reservoir from the top of the rock is worth the climb. Explore all the 3 platforms on the rock to enjoy the views of the tiny green islands popping out of the blue waters of the Peñol-Guatapé lake. You can buy tickets, which costs 18,000 COP ($5 USD), at the base of the rock.
After exploring the rock, take a 10 minutes ride to the Guatapé town. The houses of the town are painted with bright colors adding a lively vibe. Explore the town walking on the cobblestone streets and discover the narrow alleys or the odd cafes for a snack or drink. Get your picture clicked at the Plazoleta de Los Zócalos, the main plaza of the town.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Guatapé is at about 2 hours drive from Medellin. The best way to get there is on guided day trips. For more information, click here.
*Contributed by Julien Casanova, Cultures Traveled
Travelers are lured to Jardin to experience small-town Colombian life. Centered around the main square and surrounded by streets lined with colorful colonial architecture, it does not disappoint. But it’s the many things to do in Jardin that make it one of the top places to visit in Colombia.
Nestled in a mountainous region four hours south of Medellin, buses depart to Jardin multiple times per day. To truly take advantage of your time here, plan to stay at least two nights – but you can also visit on a day trip. For more information, click here.
Spend the first day wandering the streets as you admire the colorful doors and balconies. If you have a sweet tooth, stop at Dulce Jardin to savor handmade traditional sweets such as arequipe. Afterward, it’s a short walk to Chaco Corazon or the wooden cable car that glides just above the banana trees to the top of the mountain for a different vantage of town.
Nature lovers will enjoy the numerous opportunities to explore the surrounding mountains. Take a strenuous self-guided hike to Cascada La Escalera and Christo Rey with a stop at Cafe Jardin in between. Or opt for a guided tour to Cueva del Esplendor where after a short tropical hike, you’ll reach a rushing waterfall pouring through the top of the cavern. You may also want to consider a coffee farm tour such as this one.
A visit to Jardin is an essential experience of small-town life in Colombia and one you shouldn’t miss on your travels.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: You can get to Jardin by bus from Medellin. Buses depart several times per day and take around 3.5 hours.
The small, colorful Salento is at the heart of the Eje Cafetero – Colombia’s coffee triangle. Equally loved by Colombians who crowd it at the weekend and tourists alike who visit to learn the secrets of Colombian coffee, this is the perfect starting point to explore the gorgeous Cocora Valley (more about it below), and to appreciate some nature-related activities – horse riding, mountain baking and more.
The town itself is incredibly pleasant. Its must-sees include Calle Real – AKA the main street; and the mirador, from where you can enjoy views of the village and the surrounding valley. While in town, enjoy a game of tejo (a local game which consists in throwing a ball at some targets and where gunpowder is involved for an explosive effect); and to eat lots of trucha – trout.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Salento can be reached by bus from either Armenia or Pereira (between 1 hour and 1.5 hours), both connected to Bogota by plane. If you only have a day to visit, you can consider this Cocora Valley, Salento and coffee tasting or this wax palms, Salento and coffee tour. Both depart from Pereira.
Check out my post A Concise Guide To Salento, Colombia.
Valle de Cocora
Truly one of the most spectacular places in the country, Valle de Cocora is home to incredibly tall, wax palm trees (they can reach up to 70 meters in height!) and of a truly beautiful, thick and lush cloud forest. A great place for horse riding, the best way to appreciate it is on a hike. There are various going through the valley – the best one will take you about 6 hours to complete and take you all the way to Acaima Natural Reserve, where you can admire various species of birds (first and foremost hummingbirds).
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Cocora Valley is located at about 15 km from Salento. You can get there by jeep. Several depart daily from the main square.
For more information about Cocora Valley, read my post A Complete Guide To Hiking Valle De Cocora, Colombia.
Los Nevados National Park
Easily one of the most breathtaking places to visit in Colombia, Los Nevados National Park is a land mountain peaks, lakes, glaciers and the unique paramo ecosystem. It’s the kind of place you should consider visiting if you are into hiking and extreme adventure, but as it’s easy to get lost (trails aren’t well marked and the area fogs up a lot) you will be better off with a guide.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Los Nevados National Park is at about 3 hours drive from Manizales, and little over 4 hours from Salento. Although you can go there on day trips, you are much better off spending a few days to enjoy a long-distance hike. You are better off with a guided one, such as this 4-day hike.
*Contributed by Nicole, Go Far Grow Close.
If you are looking for another untouched place and authentic experience in Colombia, then Nuqui Choco is the ultimate destination. It is a municipality and town on the Pacific Ocean that is surrounded by jungle, empty and pristine beaches, and a local culture that is focused on fishing and a small tourism industry.
It is not easy to get to Nuqui Choco. From Medellin, you fly for one hour on a twin prop plane. However, the flight is an amazing experience. You fly quite low to the ground and you are able to see not only how beautiful the mountains and jungle are almost everywhere you look, but also, how unpopulated and undeveloped the country still is.
Nuqui Choco is one of the best places to visit in Colombia for whale watching. From June to November, thousands of humpback whales arrive off the shores of Nuqui Choco. You can easily whale watch from shore, but it is so much more thrilling to take a boat out with a local and get up close to these majestic animals.
Make sure to also visit the isolated villages scattered along the coast. Another incredible experience is to go to Thermales to swim in natural thermal springs, especially if this includes a 3 hour walk along empty beaches and jungle from your beachside hotel, and then exploring the small village that takes care of the springs.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The only way to get to Nuqui Choco is by plane. You can fly there from Medellin.
Cali is the kind of place you either love or hate. Known to the world for its infamous Cali Cartel, this large city of more than 2 million people is one of the best places to visit in Colombia if you want to learn how to salsa. You can spend days, weeks and even months at a salsa school to practice your moves while you appreciate the local life and befriend the welcoming people.
Other than salsa, the main attractions in town are the Cat Park – the El Parque del Gato de Tejada, home to several cat statues including a massive one by Colombian artist Hernando Tejada; Plaza de Cayzedo, AKA Cali’s main square; the Capilla La Hermita; the colorful Barrio San Antonio and El Cristo Rey statue. If you have enough time, you can also venture to Rio Pance for a day trip. If you care for a guided tour of the city, you can check out this one.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Cali is well connected to the rest of Colombia by plane. You can fly into its Alfonso Bonilla Aragon International Airport.
Rio de Siete Colores
*Contributed by Adam Marland, We Dream of Travel
Deep in the jungles of Colombia is a natural wonder kept hidden to the world; El Rio de Siete Colores (the River of Seven Colors!). You may also hear it referred to as “Caño Cristales,” or the River of Five Colors to some.
At the right time of year, a colorful algae blossoms in the river bed. This algae flourishes in shades of red, pink, orange, purple, and magenta. Golden sand also fills crevices throughout, adding even more incredible tones to the color palette. It is a dream destination like no other!
In order to visit, you will most likely want to arrange a tour from La Macarena. You will also need to book accommodation there and hire a guide, as they do not allow visitors to explore on their own.
While the difficulty in exploring this incredible place may sound like an unappealing challenge, the remote nature and strict rules of visitation ensures the river will not be polluted or adversely affected by overcrowding. It really is one of the best places to visit in Colombia.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: To get to the Rio de Siete Colores you will have to fly to La Macarena, which has direct connections from Bogotá. From there you can take a fast boat along the Río Guayabero and then a half hour ride by bus which will take you to the beginning of the trail.
Popayan is the kind of place most people visit on a stopover while on their way to Ecuador. I won’t hide that it was exactly the same for me – except I was so tired from riding the bus that I decided to spend a few days there to rest, and quickly fell in love with the city.
Located in the Cauca Department, in the west of Colombia, Popayan is known as La Ciudad Blanca – the white city. And white it is! The center is packed with beautifully kept colonial buildings, and a maze of cobblestone alleys. Make sure to stop by the Iglesia de San Francisco, where mummies were discovered in the 1980s after an earthquake caused damage to the building. For a guided tour of the city, click here.
You can also hike El Morro de Tulcan, a great place to catch sunset over the city and easy to reach from the center of town.
What’s more, the weather in Popayan is actually pleasant – not nearly as hot as Cali.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Popayan can be reached by bus from Cali. The trip takes about 3 hours.
*Contributed by Elisa, Travel France Bucketlist
Parque Arqueológico Nacional de Tierradentro is the second most important archaeological site in the country and one of the most special places to visit in Colombia. This UNESCO World Heritage site is located in the municipality of Inzá, department of Cauca, in Andean’s central cordillera.
Tierradentro is the name that the Spaniards gave to the pre-Columbian culture that lived in this area from 200BC and lasted until the 17th century. This area is dominated by impressive mountains and deep canyons, and the Spaniards felt they were ‘gobbled down’ by the mountains, hence the name.
Tierradentro culture is well-known for its hypogea, underground tombs usually built 5-8 meters below the surface and beautifully decorated with colorful paintings.
Despite being the second most important archaeological site in Colombia, not many people visit Tierradentro, mostly due to its difficult access and lack of tourist facilities. But with a name like this one, it couldn’t be otherwise.
The National Archaeological Park of Tierradentro (38 Ha) was specifically delimited to include and preserve all known monumental hypogea. It is possible to visit all the hypogea open to the public during a busy hiking day, but after such a painful journey, you will want to stay longer. There’s a kind of passport sold for all the sites, and you will get it stamped at the entrance of each site. Access to the hypogea is through ladders and sturdy boots, 1,5 liters of water, and sun protection (or waterproof clothes) are highly recommended.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The best access point to get to Tierradentro is Popayan, from where it is a 4 to 5 hours bus ride.
*Contributed by Claire Sturzaker, This Travel Lover
The area around the village of San Agustín in southern Colombia is a special place. Between the 6th and 14th century it was home to mysterious people who carved statues to guard the tombs of their dead. The strangest part? No-one really knows what happened to the people who made the statues. Their culture has disappeared, leaving behind the magnificent sculptures and tantalizing clues to their fate.
At least 500 statues are scattered across the Colombian countryside, some left in the place they were found, in and around tombs, while others have been moved to a specific archaeological park where they are displayed for the public.
Some statues are as tall as 7 meters, and they vary in detail and intricacy of carvings. There are masked monsters, animal figures and human shapes, some still with remnants of red and yellow paint that decorated the sculptures.
One of the best ways to explore the area is by horseback. Your guide will take you to several important sites, and you can admire the beautiful scenery of the Magdalena River valley along the way.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The bus journey from Popayan to San Agustín takes 6 to 8 hours, on a winding yet spectacular road through a national park. The road is dangerous at night though, so make sure you only travel during the day.
*Contributed by Daniel of Urban Abroad
Tatacoa Desert is yet another off the beaten track location in Colombia! This is a real-life fantasy that offers a one of a kind experience for any adventurous traveler to Colombia. Not only is it one of the most attractive landscapes to look at with the naked eye.
It is worth noting that Tatacoa is not actually a desert; it’s a dried-up tropical forest. Once upon a time, it was filled with tons of flowers and trees which today are just a reminiscent part of the landscape’s history. Here you can spot eagles, lizards, scorpions, spiders, snakes, and other creepy crawlies that roam around free. But don’t let that startle you.
When you travel to Tatacoa desert some of the things to do here include: hiking the red desert, which is not for the faint-hearted, but well worth the effort; a trip to the Los Hoyas, a natural mineral swimming pool located right in the middle of the desert; as well as many other hikes and landscapes to encounter as part of a local walking tour.
For astronomy fans, you can visit the Tatacoa observatory, and if you’re well equipped, you can camp out and do some stargazing in the evenings. All in all, a trip to the Tatacoa Desert will give you a unique perspective of one of the many diverse landscapes that Colombia has to offer its visitors. You can arrive here from the major cities such as Medellin and Bogota.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: You can arrive to Tatacoa from Bogota. It’s little over 6 hours drive.
*Contributed by Anna McPhee, Anna Meanders
Leticia is tucked away in the Southernmost corner of Colombia, and lies on the border to Brazil and Peru. This makes for a wonderful blend of cultural festivals and experiences, a chance to take a stroll over to Tabatinga in Brazil, or a quick boat hop over to the middle of the Amazon itself to visit Santa Rosa de Yavarí, a small Peruvian island in the middle of the river.
Surrounding Leticia is the Amazon rainforest. Nearby you will find places to spot pink Amazonian river dolphins, giant waterlilies, swaths of toucans, parakeets and parrots; as well as numerous natural reserves, lakes, treehouses and wildlife tours by foot, canoe, and even zip-line.
While the main drawcard of Leticia for most tourists is the surrounding Amazon rainforest and river, the town itself is well worth exploring! Full of restaurants serving up exotic Amazonian river fish, a bustling riverboat trade, brightly colored river houses on stilts, a promenade walk along the waters edge, and tropical markets to explore.
Make sure to visit the Museo Etnografico – a free museum full of history and cultural artifacts from Leticia and the wider Amazon, and don’t miss the breathtaking all natural bird show in Parque Santander at 5:30 pm each day as many thousands of parrots come in to roost for the night.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: The only way to get to Leticia is by plane. Flights from Bogota take little over 2 hours and land in Alfredo Vasquez Cobo International Airport.
Guided Tours Of Colombia
If you would like to explore the best places to visit in Colombia, but have no time for planning your trip or would rather leave this job to the experts, you should definitely opt for a guided tour. G Adventures runs some excellent ones. Make sure to check these out:
- COLOMBIA MULTISPORT – an 11 day tour perfect for active travelers.
- COLOMBIA MULTISPORT AND LOST CITY TREK – similar to the previous tour, but longer and it includes a trek to the Lost City.
- WELLNESS COLOMBIA – an 8-day tour of Cartagena and Tyrona National Park, with a strong focus on nature.
- COLOMBIA EXPRESS – a 9 -day tour of the most famous places to visit in Colombia.
- COLOMBIAN CULTURE, CARIBBEAN AND LOST CITY – a 22-day tour of all the most popular destinations-