Colombia is one incredible, mesmerizing country. It benefits from all types of climates and landscapes, from the carribean sea to the pacific, from the amazon to the high mountains of the andes cordillera, from deserts to tropical forests. Half of the country is still unexplored jungle and it is estimated that least 20 ethnic groups have still not been discovered. The wildlife and biodiveristy here is unique. Colombia is the perfect country for some outdoor adventures, discovering its charming colonial towns, as well as visiting its mysterious archaeological sites. It is a country rich in culture, music, and colors. You’ll find a diverse population descending from the spanish, slaves and indigenous tribes as well as a mix of these. You can still find different indiginous tribes in some of Colombia remote areas such as the Wayuu, Arhuacos,Kogis, Guambianos, Muiscas and many more. You’ll find that in general the Colombian people are extremely welcoming, polite and caring.
Plan your trip to Colombia:
Bogota – the Capital City
- Bogota is a big capital city with skyscraping building situated at 2640m of altitude. In the early morning you can hear birds chirping and even spot a few colibris. Try to avoid getting into traffic during peak hour, if you want to get a Taxi, use Uber or Tapsi app. The water is drinkable in Bogota (not so much elsewhere). What to see:
– La Candelaria : The center of Bogota with its colonial houses and paved street. Start exploring la Candelaria from its main Plaza Bolivar.
– Look out for the amazing graffitis (you can even join the free graffitti tour)
– Museum : El Museo del Oro possess an incredible collection or indigenous gold figurines and scultures (free on Sunday) , Museo Botero (free) features the art of one of Colombian most reknown artists and is situated in a beautiful colonial house.
– Churchs : Iglesia Museo de Santa Clara, Catedral Primada
– Climb to Monserate, a small but good hike for the best view of Bogota
– Rent a bike on Sunday and enjoy la Cyclovia and its atmosphere (main roads are closed for cyclists and pedestrian)
– Have dinner and some fun in la Zona Rosa, la Zona G or Chapinero
– Visit Usaquen, a lovely colonial neighbourhood which display an amazing indigenous handcrafts market on weekends.
Close to Bogota for a day trip:
- Zipaquira with its magnificent underground salt cathedral
- Lagunas de Seichas is an absolutely stunning sight with 3 lakes up in the Paramos (Páramos is a unique vegetation that grows at more than 3000m of altitude close to the equateur). Although a bit costy, it is well worth your time & money, go there early.
- Laguna de Guatavita is a crater lake where is believed to be originated the myth of El Dorado. It was a sacred place for the Muiscas where they performed gold offering.
- Go to Chia to discover the legendery place of Andrés Carne de Res which is a great bar- restaurant with a unique and crazy atmosphere to it.
North of Bogota
- Villa de Leyva is Colombian most reknown colonial town with its huge center plaza, white houses, surrounded by mountains its the perfect get away from Bogota.
- San Gil + Barichara + El Cañon del Chicamocha
– San Gil is the city of extreme sports with a laid back atmosphère. Try out the rafting, excellent caving, paragliding, rappelling, hiking, Extreme Mountain biking, and more. Taste the local specialy : Hormigas Culonas (or big ass ants) and play a game of Tejo!
– Barichara is a well preserved colonial village. Up the village there is a lovely cobblestone trail that goes down to the village of Guane and passes through the countryside.
– El Cañon del Chicamocha is a spectacular canyon, the best views are from the mirador, teleferico or paragliding if you are feeling adventurous. Careful with the cactus.
- El Parque del Cocuy is a breath taking park up in the Páramo ecosystem starting at 4000m of altitude, more than 15 of its peaks are at least 5000m high ( and some glaciers)
The Carribean Coast
- La Guajira boards the northern frontier with Venezuela. Its a huge desert that stretches to the Caribbean sea. The Wayuu, a matriarchal tribe whom are renowned for their colorful mochillas, are from this region. The ride to Cabo de la Vela or Punta Gallinas is long, complicated and very bumpy. That said it looks like nothing of the rest of Colombia, where the houses are made of dry cactus and goats are up in the dry trees.
- Minca is a lovely place up in the forest in the mountains near Santa Marta. It’s a great place to retreat and cool down or simply explore. Check out the amazing view and sunset.
- Tayrona is paradise on earth. It’s a remote Caribbean park in la Sierra Nevada. Chillax, bath in the hot Caribbean water, explore the beach & bays. Don’t miss out on Pueblito, an indigenous village of the Kogis tribe (the kogis tribe wear long white tunics), Pueblito is seen as a mini cuidad perdida. The climb is hard but well worth it. Rent a hamoc in Tayrona and don’t forget to take your repellent for the mosquitoes.
- Ciudad Perdida is the Colombian Machu Pichu but less touristy. It’s a 4-5 day trek all included (700 000 pesos / 200€) and discover pre-Columbian ruins at the top of la Sierra Nevada.
- Cartegena is my favorite city in Colombia, it is a colorful vibrant colonial beauty. It benefits of that relaxed & fun Caribbean atmosphere. The Old town is Unesco World Heritage Site.
– Go watch some Mapale dancing at night at Parque Bolivar. It’s quite a treat, this dance which came from the African slaves is very enticing.
– Discover el Castillo Juan Felipe and its labyrinth maze which benefits of the best view of the city and will make you understand part of the history of Colombia.
-En el Parque del Centenario in front of the tower clock you can see cute monkey & iguanas hanging around.
- San Andres & Providencia are 2 Colombian islands situated in the Caribbean sea. If you are looking for a paradise islands, this is it. Discover it’s picture perfect turquoise sea and coral reefs, as well as its great treks with lovely mountains, beaches & mangroves.
- El Carnaval of Barranquilla: the biggest Carnaval in Colombia and second biggest of South America after el carnaval de Rio de Janeiro. This Mardi Gras Carnaval is celebrated in January.
- Mompox is a decading colonial town completely lost & surrounded by water which will make you feel like a character in one of Garcia Marquez’s book, one Hundred Years of Solitude.
- El Golfo de Uraba, check out Capurgana & Sapzurro; two laid back Caribbean towns surrounded by beaches on one side and jungle on the other at the Panama frontier. Much less touristy, they make a great snorkeling & diving spots. You can get there either by plane from Medellin or by boat from Turbo.
Medellin & Great Places Nearby for a Day Trip
- Medellin is the city to party. Check out the restaurants and clubs. Plazoleta de las Esculturas possess some of Boteros finest (or fattest) scultures. If you are interested in the famous deceased narco trafiquant Pablo Escobar, some agency organise special tours.
- Guatapé is known for its colorful bas-relief painting on its houses. Near Guatapé climb La Piedra del Peñol, an imposing rock which dominates the landscapes. From there the view is breathtaking. You can see how the lanscape and the water have made such intricate patterns that you could not tell it those are islands in a lake or rivers parting the land.
- Santa Fe de Antioquia is an old colonial town, check out its Puente de Occidente. It’s one of the oldest suspension bridges in South America ; made by the same designer of the Brooklyn Bridge in NY. Try out la pulpa de tamarindo, a local candy.
South of Medellin & West of Bogota
- Jardin is one of the most beautiful town of the region. Coffee farms and mountains surround this colorfully painted town. Relax or explore its waterfalls, caves and lovely countryside.
- Rio Claro is the perfect jungle retreat. Although expensive (100 000 pesos/night with entrance & meals included), it is perfect for 2 nights. You can bath in the clear river, explore la Caverna de los Guacharos ( a unique bird species) for some fun or go for a jungle walk to observe nightlife. Other activities include rafting & zipping.
- Manizales +Nevados + Aguas Termales + Coffee Farms
– Manizales is a steep mountain town and a great base to go and explore the park of los Nevados for its astonishing peaks & páramo, Coffee farms and thermal baths such as Termales San Vicente, el Otoño or Tierra Viva.
- Salento + Valle del Cocora +Nevados + Coffee farm
– Salento is definitely in my top places to visit in Colombia. The village is charming and very picturesque with its colorful houses. At night go to the main plaza for some local dancing.
– Valle del Cocora is an absolute enchantment. It’s a skyscraping mist palm tree forest. You can hike there for the day, be careful with the slippery rocks and mud (lots of mud). If you go there early you might witness the sun, during the day the palm trees are surrounded by mist which gives it a mysterious glow. The hike is an adventure to itself with lots of monkey bridges that take you up to a Humming-Bird house. Go there by catching the famous Willy’s Jeep (dating from WW2) from the village plaza for an epic.
– For an off the beaten path adventure, you can also access los Nevados from el Valle del Cocora. Be prepared, the hike is hard physically and mentally because of the long steep very muddy climb. Once you get to el Páramo, the view is absolutely breath taking. You’ll need at least 3 Days, start very early as the climb is an absolutely full days hike to the small farmer’s house (4000m of altitude) that can host hikers as well as alpinist who wish to climb the Tolima Volcano. Otherwise you can do another hike that leads to natural hot springs in los Nevados. Bring your tent and be well equipped for the very cold climate!
– Around Salento you’ll find some great coffee farms which you can visit and discover the whole process as well as taste some delicious colombian coffee.
South of Colombia
- Cali is the best place to learn some salsa, the city lives for its music. You’re in for a show. Look out also for some fabulous graffitis.
- Pance + Pico de Loro
– Pance is the perfect retreat from the hot climate of Cali & to recharge your Rent a Finca and relax to the gentle sound of the river in this perfect mountain scenery. You can climb the very steep Pico de Loro for some action or discover some waterfalls.
- The Pacific Coast is composed of wild & wet jungle (one of the rainiest region of the planet) and is quite hard to reach. You can get there either by plane or by bus to Buenaventura (and the rest by boat). Activities include surfing, hiking to waterfalls & natural pools as well as hot thermals ones, paddling through mangrove and during summer, whales-watching.
- Popayan + Mercado de Silvia + el Purace
– Popayan is a lovely well preserved white colonial town.
– El Mercado de Silvia is a Tuesday fruit & vegetable Market where the indigenous tribe of los Guambianos come down from the mountains in Chivas. They dress in a very traditional and unique way ( bue skirts with pink fringe, bowler hats, and short cut hair). Watch the women spin the wool. It’s a fascinating scene.
– In el Parque del Purace you can climb the Volcano (4750m) to its rocky moon top. The walk is long but not hard, start early. Don’t miss the sulfate geysers at the very foggy top. Be prepared as the higher you get the colder it is, bring some warm clothes.
The second option is at the bottom of the parque you have some natural hot springs (can’t bath in it though), los Termales de San Juan. The bubbly water in this paramo landscapes is quite a sight.
- El Desierto de la Tatacoa is postcard perfect with its a red maze and small canyons. You can spend 2 days to visit the red and grey desert and its surroundings with its variety of cactus. To get there you have to go to Neiva and catch a bus to the desert.
- Tierradentro was a lovely surprise for me, with its mysterious and remote underground indigenous tombs, coffee farms, and mountain views. A very well indicated trail with amazing mountain scenery links a majority of those funeral temples. You can even find a few statues such as the ones in San Agustin. Catch a bus to La Plata to get there.
- San Agustin is renowned for its magnificent rock sculpted statues which will thrill any art lover. The great Parque Arqueologico possess 130 of these status and some of the most famous ones. Do not miss it. There are more than 500 of this status scattered around San Agustin, the best way to see the rest is by car or horse. Other sights to see such statues include el Alto de los Idolos, Alto de las Piedras, el Tablon, la Chaquira, la Pelota & el Purutal. Besides the intriguing statues, there are 2 impressive waterfalls: salto de Bordones & salto de Mortiño, as well as el Estrecho del Rio Magdalena. There is also some good rafting around.
- El Parque del fin del Mundo near Mocoa. The parque posess natural pools and small waterfall as well as a spectacularly vertiginous one which you can see from up up above. Other amazing natural spots exist close to Mocoa with interesting rock formations and rivers. Mocoa in itself has no charms at all, it is still a non touristy suspicious town due to its past, it’s hard finding a nice place to stay. You only go there for its pristine and untouched jungle as it is a corner of the Amazon.
- The Amazon, the easiest way to get there is taking a plane from Bogota to Laeticia, the biggest city in the Amazon. It is situated at the frontier with Peru and Brazil and you can go explore Manaus or Benjamin Constant freely on the Brazilian side. The best way to see the Amazon is to stay in a jungle lodge. From there you can organize excursions to see the pink dolphins of the Amazon River, trek through the jungle, discover an indigenous tribe and climb to the top of the forest canopy. Concerning wild animals, you can spot parrots and monkeys, if you are lucky and with a good guide you might be in for more surprises.
- Caño Cristales in the Macarena Mountains is the river of five colors. From July to November you can discover its hidden waterfalls, natural pools and witness its extraordinary colors. It is only accessible with agencies who’ll organize the trip from Bogota or Villavicencio.
- Pasto + Laguna de la Cocha + El Volcan Azufrales + El Santuario de las Lajas
– Pasto is the biggest city 2h from Ecuador. It is renowned for its Carnaval de Blancos y Negros (the first week of January), dating back from slavery times when on this occasions the masters would paint their faces in black and the slaves in white.
– Laguna de la Cocha is unique in Colombia, with its wooden chalet, cold temperature and colorful small boats.
– El Volcan Azufrales is a must see. An easy but cold and misty hike (4000m) to its Laguna Verde. The green lagoon & yellowish rocks are due to sulfur and offer a mysterious sight.
– El Santuario de las Lajas in Ipiales is a grey and white Neo-Gothic Sanctuary clinging to the mountain side. Visit on Sunday when all the pilgrims come to worship to get the true feeling of this place. Close to Ecuador you can already try out guinea pig.