Discover the most beautiful places in Colombia, 25 travel tips!

by Deborah Durrfeld
colombia bezienswaardigheden

Colombia is an amazing country to visit in South America. Its culture and landscapes couldn’t be more diverse. The country has a tragic history, because of the many civil wars and violent war on drugs, and it only opened years ago for tourism.  I visited Colombia many times over the last years and was able to explore different parts of the country. I absolutely fell in love. This is an article with the best and most beautiful places to visit in Colombia. Including the best time to visit and 25 travel tips for national parks, cities, lovely villages, breathtaking nature, archaeology, adventurous tours and cultural experiences in Colombia. To make you excited about putting this destination on your bucket list and help you get the most out of your travels.

Discover the most beautiful places in Colombia | 25 travel tips

Colombia has many different geographic regions, cultures and vibes. From the Andes mountain range, a desert, the highest wax palms in the world, immense rivers, Amazon rainforest, beaches to Cosmopolitan cities and colonial towns, a great art scene, archaeological places, a lovely coffee culture and so much more. Enjoy this list with 25 travel tips for all regions in the country, including Colombia off the beaten path.

Cities to visit in Colombia

1. Medellín

Medellín is one of the best cities to visit in Colombia.  It used to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world because of the Medellín cartel, led by drug lord Pablo Escobar. But after the death of Escobar, the city has gone through a huge transformation. Nowadays it is a bustling and cosmopolitan metropolis, where you easily can spend days and enjoy the many sights, activities, great restaurants and lovely neighborhoods.

Travel tips Colombia | one of the best cities to visit in Colombia

Take the metro cable car and enjoy the views of the city and surroundings. Comuna 13 used to be one of the most dangerous neighborhoods, today it is one of the most visited place in the city because of the great street art and many social projects. The Poblado district is bursting with trendy restaurants and lunchrooms. (Modern) art can be found around the Plaza Botero, the Museo de Antioquia or in the MAM and in the Casa de la Memoria you can learn about the tragic history of the city. But it is also possible to leave the busy city behind and unwind in the mountains of Parque Arvi or in the beautiful botanical garden.

Medellín is a city I was able to visit many times. I love to explore and discover new places all the time. Check out my personal travel tips and best places to visit in Medellín Colombia in the next article.

2. Bogotá

Bogotá is the cosmopolitan capital of Colombia and for most travelers a first introduction to the country. Like many South American capitals, Bogotá is a crowded city with up to 10 million inhabitants. The city has different sides: A nice colonial center, rich and hip neighborhoods in the north, poor slums in the south, a large business center, many universities and a vibrant art and cultural scene. Bogota has a lot to offer and it’s absolutely recommended to spending a couple of days.

You can take the cable car to the 3000meter high Monseratte mountain. From here you have a view of entire Bogotá and you realize how big this city actually is. Stroll through the historic center and the nice neighborhood of La Candelaria, with cute shops, restaurants and street artists. If you like art: In the center you can admire fantastic street art, which often hides interesting stories, get to know the art of Fernando Botero, observe modern art in the MAMBO or visit the hip artgalleries in the Teusaquillo district. But the gold museum is also worth a visit. This museum has one of the largest gold collections and takes you on a journey through pre-Columbian Colombia.

In the next article I’m sharing the best places to visit and things to do in Bogota Colombia and its surroundings. To get the most out of your stay in this bustling capital

3. Cartagena, one of the most beautiful places in Colombia

Cartagena is probably one of the most visited and beautiful places in Colombia. It is the capital of the Bolivar department and located on the Caribbean coast. As a traveler you will mainly visit the colonial center, the artistic neighborhood Getsemaní, the beaches and the islands: Las Islas Rosarios.

As in many beautiful places, you’re unfortunately not the only visitor.  The amount of tourists can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you have visited other parts of Colombia. Nevertheless, a visit to Cartagena should not be missed.  In the colonial center you walk past squares, old forts, monasteries, churches, colorful streets and every corner is just beautiful. Cartagena is a true picture heaven!

Great food and drinks

Also, when it comes to amazing restaurants and trendy bars, this is going to be your city. From simple eateries to hip roof-top bars and culinary experiences. Try to make a reservation at Maria, Bohemia, or Townhouse(also a hotel). You will find more travel tips about the beaches around Cartagena Colombia, at the bottom of this article.

4. Calí

Calí is Colombia’s third city, after Bogotá and Medellín. The city has ​​a tragic past, because of the Cali cartel that dominated the city for years. Nowadays you can easily visit Calí. It is the capital of Valle del Cauca, a province with a lot of sugar cane, citrus, avocado and banana plantations. Calí is the city of the Colombian salsa and music. But there are not many highlights. I recommend visiting Calí especially if you are a music and dance lover and plan to take dance classes or enjoy the bustling nightlife.

cali

If you are planning to visit Calí, make sure to hike the Cerro de las tres Cruces viewpoint, for an amazing view of the city.

Nature & National parks | beautiful places in Colombia

1. The Tatacoa desert

Did you know Colombia has a desert? El desierto de Tatacoa.  It is officially a large tropical dry forest, because of the annual rainfall. However, it is called the Tatacoa desert in Colombia.  Tatacoa consists of two parts: a beautiful red rocky area, El Cuzco and a bizarre grey part, Los Hoyos.  The colors, shapes, and cacti make this one of the most surrealistic places in Colombia. Different layers and the fossils in the rocks, proof a million-years old history. The best way to discover the area is by going on a walk in the early morning or late afternoon, when temperatures are cooler than during the day. Try to also spend the night in the desert in one of the posadas to enjoy amazing starry skies and visit one of the observatories.

In this article I’m telling you everything you want to know about a visit to the Tatacoa desert in Colombia, including useful tips.

2. Valle de Cocora, one of the most beautiful places in Colombia

Valle de Cocora is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in Colombia for hiking. The valley is known for the Palma de Cera de Quindío, the highest wax palm in the world, with an average height of 50 to 60 meters. It is also Colombia’s national tree. The valley can be reached by jeeps from the nice coffee village of Salento. There are several trails you can walk, from easy to difficult, passing breathtaking viewpoints. It is also possible to explore the area by horse.

Do you want to learn more about Valle de Cocora? Check out the tips for your visit, including hiking trails.

3. Tayrona National Park

Do you want to go on a lovely day hike? Then make sure to visit the Tayrona National Park. This park is located on the coast in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and is the former home of the Tayrona Indians. Especially the combination of beaches, viewpoints and rainforest make this one of the unique places to visit in Colombia. Along the way you will encounter small indigenous settlements, with remains of huts, burial mounds and ceremonial places. A good day hike is the route to Cabo San Juan and back (2 hours one way). Playa La Piscinita and Cabo San Juan are great beaches for swimming and relaxing. The walks are doable, but the heat and high humidity can make it difficult at times! If you don’t feel like walking, you can also take a horseback ride.

Tayrona Nationaal Park | one of the best places to visit in Colombia
Tayrona National Park, one of the popular and best places to visit in Colombia

Note

The Tayrona National Park is closed annually in February. In this period the NP is spiritually cleaned by the local population.

Do you want to know more about Tayrona National Park, how to reach it and where to stay? In the next article you will find an overview of the best places to visit in Santa Marta Colombia. Santa Marta is a good starting point for your trip to Tayrona. You’ll find a lot of tips and information for the city and its surroundings.

4. El Caño Cristales – River of Five Colors

Ever heard of the rainbow river? Located in the Serrania de La Macarena mountain range in the province of Meta, El Caño Cristales is arguably one of the most beautiful rivers in the world. The river is called the liquid rainbow river because of the bright color red and other bright colors like yellow, green, blue and black that you will find here. The color red comes from the water plant Macarenia Clavigera, which blooms for a few months a year. These river plants are unique in the world and only occur in this National Park, between July and November. It is therefore one of the most beautiful natural places in Colombia.

El Caño Cristales | one of the most beautiful places to visit in Colombia

Caño Cristales can be visited by air, flying from Bogotá, Medellín or Calí to La Macarena. From here you can book a tour to the river. The river is in a remote area and can only be reached by foot or on horseback. The best time to visit Caño Cristales is between June and the end of November, because only then the river plants are in bloom and the National Park is open.

5. Puracé National Park

Puracé is a national park, southeast of the city of Popayan, consisting of 86,000 hectares. It is dominated by the 4600 meters high and active Puracé volcano, which is visible on clear days. In this park you can take walks, float in hot springs, view waterfalls and with a bit of luck, spot condors. It is a breathtaking area that reminds many people of Iceland. Make sure to bring solid hiking shoes (it can be slippery) and be prepared for different climatic conditions. The weather changes quickly.

The best way to visit Puracé National Park is as a day trip from the city of Popayan (2 hours one way), a lovely colonial student city. If you travel by bus from San Agustín to Popayan, you will cross part of the National Park. However, this is not the most spectacular part.

Frailejones and the Paramo

In the NP Purace you will find yourself at altitudes around 3000 meters, the tree line. Between the tree line and the snow line (4000 meters) lies the Paramo, a special plain consisting of moss, peat, grass and shrubs. The water from the surrounding glaciers creates streams and lakes and makes it one of the main freshwater supplies of the nearby villages and towns. In this area, you will come across one of my favorite plants, the frailejones, aka the praying monk because of its shape. They absorb moisture from the air, which they filter and introduce into the soil through their roots! Such as fascinating area!

paramo and frailejones

6. The rock of Guatapé

One of the famous places in Colombia is Peñol de Guatape. This is a 200m high rock and you can hike to the top, by taking more than 700 steps on a climbable staircase. And yes, it is a pretty tough hike up. But the view is more than rewarding!  Once you’ve made it to the top, you have a 360degree view of the lake and lush environment. The rock is located near the town of Guatapé, famous for its steep streets, coffee bars, art shops and many colorful houses. Every house is a true piece of art, as residents paint their houses in bright colors, and decorate the bottom with fresco like panels called zocalos. It’s incredibly photogenic and one of the most lovely places to visit in Colombia.

Guatapé can be best visited from Medellín. Check out my personal travel tips and best places to visit in Medellín Colombia, and its surroundings in the next article.

Travel tips | Archaeology in Colombia

1. The mysterious statues and tombs of San Agustín

Are you interested in archeology? Then a visit to San Agustín should not be missed. Thousands of years ago, the southern part of Colombia was home to a mysterious civilization, known as the San Agustín culture. This civilization built burial mounds in which they placed beautiful statues. Today you can visit the archaeological site. A winding jungle path runs along 35 amazing sculptures, where you can marvel at for minutes. It’s an absolute highlight for me!

The sculptures

Why did they create those tombs and statues? Why in this place? And how is it that we know so little about this culture and archaeological site? Most of the sculptures have been examined for years, and there are theories and stories behind all of them. But no information has been confirmed. Something what will make your visit even more interesting.

This site is one of the least visited places in Colombia and really off the beaten path. In the next article, I’m telling you everything you want to know about San Agustín, Colombia, including helpful tips.

2. The underground temples of Tierradentro

In Tierradentro you can visit underground tombs. The tombs date from 600 and 900 AD and are said to belong to priests and important chiefs. The special location on mountain slopes and beautiful painted decorations make it one of the best places to visit in Colombia, if you are interested in archeology. Entire spaces and pillars are painted with patterns and decorated with images. The burial chambers consist of several rooms and are located 3 to 6 meters underground. You can enter the tombs via steps and marvel at the murals and architecture. There are 64 graves in Segovia, 25 of which are open to the public. Keep in mind that the distances between the tombs are at least 15 to 20 minutes walk, so make sure to bring solid shoes.

Tierradentro | archaeological beautiful places in Colombia
The underground temples of Tierradentro

Adventurous trips | beautiful places in Colombia

1. La Ciudad Perdida

The hike to La Ciudad Perdida in Colombia, is a once in a lifetime experience. La Ciudad Perdida, the lost city of the Tayrona, a pre-Columbian culture, is located in the middle of the jungle of the Sierra Nevada. The only way to reach this place, is by foot, through the jungle, for four days. Two full days to reach the city and afterwards the exact same way back. You will spend the night in hammocks or bunkbeds, with local communities, along the way.

La ciudad Perdida, one of the most beautiful places in Colombia

You will be amazed by the colors, mystery and peace of the old city.  But not only the destination is worth it, the landscape, lush vegetation and isolated indigenous communities during your hike, will make every day of this trip unforgettable.

How difficult is the hike?

This hike is not for everyone. You need to have a good physical condition, as the walks are 7 to 8 hour every day, and the humidity is intense. Besides that, a lot of adventure is involved, you will be crossing rivers and climb steep mountains.  I won’t lie if I say that there are moments, that you just want to quit and go home. But if you like hiking, adventure and history, this is a hike not to miss.

Santa Marta is your starting point for this challenging hike. In the next article you will find an overview of the best places to visit in Santa Marta Colombia and tips for restaurants.

Travel tips and beautiful places in lovely towns in Colombia.

1. Villa de Leyva

If you’re looking for a nice weekend away from the busy capital of Bogotá, you should follow the Bogotanos and visit Villa de Leyva. This mountain village is located in the province of Boyacá, at an altitude of 2100 meters.  The center consists of cobbled streets, white colonial houses with terracotta roof tiles, balconies with countless flowers, churches and there is a view of the mountains in every part of the city. In 1954 Villa de Leyva was declared a National Monument. It’s a town where you just want to walk around, discover and take pictures. It is a wonderful trip to escape the busy capital.

What to do in this town? In this article I’m sharing the best places to visit, including travel tips for Villa de Leyva Colombia.

2. Barichara

One of the most pretty places in Colombia is the town of Barichara. This colonial town is located in the mountains of the province of Santander. It ​​means the place of tranquility, in native languages. Barichara is often used as a setting for Colombian movies and soap series because of its romantic white buildings and streets. You can stroll through the lovely town for hours, take pictures and visit the local church. In the surroundings you can take walks and enjoy views from the viewpoint Salto del Mico.

Barichara | one of the most beautiful places in Colombia
Barichara, one of the most beautiful places in Colombia

Barichara has boutique hotels in beautiful natural environments, such as Casa Mahanaim, Hotel Boutique Venturi and Serranía del Viento. Are you looking for a unique location to spend the night? An unforgettable experience is a night in one of the panoramic domes of the Natural-Glamping, where you sleep under the stars. Private jacuzzi and terrace with a view of el Gran Cañón de Chicamocha, is included.

3. Minca

Minca is a small village in the hills of the Sierra Nevada and one of the most beautiful places in Colombia. It is also an ideal destination to cool down, from hot and sweaty Santa Marta. In Minca you can take nice walks, go mountain biking, bird watching or just enjoy the sunsets from your hammock.

One of the best places to stay, is Minca Ecohabs. You will be sleeping in small bungalows in the middle of the rainforest, with amazing views that reach to the coast and the city of Santa Marta. Minca is 15 km outside the center of Santa Marta but the road is bumpy and winding.

Colombia travel tips: If you plan to make the trip to la Ciudad Perdida, ask your tour operator to pick you up in Minca.

4. Mompox

Did you ever read a book by Gabriel García Márquez? Then you might recognize the lovely atmosphere and stories of the locals in the fictional Colombian town of Macondo. Santa Cruz de Mompox Colombia, often called Mompos by the locals, could be one of these towns. You will find the tranquility of everyday Colombia here. Locals hang in their chairs in front of their houses and are willing to have a chat or drink with you.  The center consists of picturesque squares, colored churches, pastel-colored houses and inner gardens with endless flowers. Mompox, is located on the Rio Magdalena in the province of Bolivar and is still visited by few people.

One of the best things to do, is a boat trip on the Rio Magdalena. You pass small villages, local fishermen and fruit plantations and along the way you will be able observe many monkeys, water birds and iguanas. Mompox is a true hidden gem and one of the off the beaten path places in Colombia.

Looking for travel tips to visit Mompox, Colombia? Find out what to do and see, including the best places to eat in Mompox Colombia, as you will not find a restaurant on every street corner here.

5. El Jardín

El Jardín is one of the most beautiful places in Antioquia Colombia and less visited than the town of Guatapé. The amount of painted houses and balconies, with flowers, will make you speechless. You can also explore the surroundings and spot pretty birds, visit a coffee plantation or use the cable cars, offering views of the surroundings. It is also possible to go on a hike to the waterfall “La Cascada La Escalera” or horseback riding.

El Jardin, one of the best places to visit in Antioquia Colombia
El Jardin, one of the best places to visit in Antioquia Colombia

El Jardín can be best visited from Medellín. Check out my personal travel tips and best places to visit in Medellín Colombia, and its surroundings in the next article.

Tips for the Coffee triangle, the Colombian coffee region  

Colombia is known for its fantastic Arabica coffee beans that are exported to all parts of the world. And even though you can find coffee plantations all over Colombia, a visit to the Zona Cafetero or Eje cafetero should not be missed. This Colombian coffee region forms a triangle between the cities of Manizales, Pereira and Armenia. You can walk through the coffee plantations, pick beans and learn more about the process. It is remarkable that the coffee in Colombia is less tasty than you would expect, since the best beans are intended for export. But no worries, you can still find high quality coffee on the plantations or in the coffee villages.

Coffee triangle | The area is one of the best places to visit in Colombia if you like coffee.

The coffee region is easily accessible from Medellin (4 to 5 hours) and Cali (3 hours). The area is one of the best places to visit in Colombia if you like coffee.

1. Coffee villages Salento & Filandia

Salento is a bohemian town in the heart of the coffee triangle. It is located at an altitude of 1900 meters in the province of Quindio. The town is famous for its colored houses and amazing coffee. This photogenic town is also the perfect starting point for a trip through Valle de Cocora and a visit to the coffee plantation El Ocaso. A less busy alternative to Salento is the nice town of Filandia. Filandia is located in a beautiful area and is full of colorful houses and coffee shops as well. Want to learn more about Salento. Check out the travel tips for Salento Colombia in the next article.

Colombia art tips

Art is a great way to understand more about a country and its culture.  Colombia has a lot of great artists, including writes and painters such as Gabriel García Marquez and Fernando Botero. In this article I’m listing some of the most remarkable and famous artists, coming from Colombia, including where you can find their work throughout the country.

Most beautiful places and beaches in Colombia

1. Palomino

Palomino is one of the most beautiful places in Colombia on the Caribbean coast. And it is more quiet here than on other beaches in the area! You can enjoy the beach, but also go on trips to the flamingo reserves Flamencos Rosas and la Playa Camarones or visit the waterfalls in la Quebrada de Valencia. In the evening you will find live music in many places and there are artists, selling pretty handmade products and jewelry.

Palomino | one of the most beautiful places in Colombia

2. Beaches around Cartagena

Cartagena is a perfect starting point to one of the surrounding beaches. Bocagrande is the city beach and often compared to Miami. You don’t want to be here, as the beaches are far from nice. You want to avoid the bustle of the city and visit the beaches of Islas Rosarios. One of the most beautiful places is Playa Blanca, on Isla Baru, a 1-hour drive from Cartagena Colombia. You will find some restaurants and there are boats available to bring you to one of the smaller islands.

Travels tips for Cartagena Colombia: You can also spend a day at the bohemian Fenix Beach (a private beach), where you will be picked up from Cartagena by special boat. If you are looking for a luxurious beach experience, book a house with a private pool and beach at Las Islas (note, you need to have some dollars saved for this getaway)

Colombia Jungle tips

1. Leticia

Leticia is located in the Colombian Amazon on the border of Peru, Colombia and Brazil. For a long time it was an important narco transit route, until the Colombian army intervened. Nowadays this small town is one of the best places to visit in Colombia if you want to go on a jungle adventure. You can choose from multi-day tours, where you spend the night in jungle lodges. During the day, you go on boat trips and walk through the jungle to discover medicinal plants, orchids, caimans, snakes, monkeys, freshwater dolphins, pirañas and birds. It is also recommended to visit the indigenous communities of the Ticuna, Yaguas and Cocomas, who live here very protected and remote. You will learn more about their way of living, traditions and culture.

monkeys in Leticia | one of the most beautiful jungle places in Colombia

Spend the night in the jungle

One of the most beautiful eco-lodges is Calanoa Amazonas, located on the Amazon River, in the heart of the rainforest, 60 kilometers from Leticia. From this beautiful and sustaianble eco-lodge, you can go on different expeditions and experience ths Amazon at its best. Besides that, this ecolodge has a foundation, working on the conservation of the biological and cultural diversity of the Amazonian region, supporting educational and conservation processes, and the preservation of ancestral knowledge and cultural practices.  

If you want to learn more about the origins of these indigenous people, visit the small Museo Etnografico Amazonico in Leticia. Here you will find an overview of different peoples and cultures from the Amazon. A nice introduction before visiting the communities.

Travel tips: local market Silvia Colombia  

Are you around Popayan or Cali on a Tuesday? Then try to include a visit to the market of Silvia. Every week locals, including the Guambiano indegeous people, from the surrounding villages, gather here to sell their fruit, vegetables, meat and other goods. It is so colorful and wonderful to walk around. The church is also worth a visit. Moreover, you will find beautiful traditional jewelry at the market.

Best time to visit Colombia

When is the best time to visit Colombia? Colombia has a constant climate with high temperatures, due to its location near the equator. However, there can be regular tropical rain showers. But Colombia has different regions and due to height differences, each region has its own climatic conditions. In the lower located areas, the average temperature is 23 ° C to 28 ° C. Areas between 1,000 and 2,000 meters above sea level, have an average temperature of between 16 ° C and 19 ° C. Above 4,000 meters, it can be freezing and there is snow. Colombia has a dry and rainy season. In the north the dry season runs from December to March and in the south from June to August, also high season. The time to visit Colombia is from December to March and July to September.


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Do you want to read more about beautiful Colombia? Have a look in the Colombia archive or check out the articles below.


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