10 Best Places to Visit in Colombia
Are you planning your trip to Colombia? Here's a list of 10 best places you simply can't miss when in this popular South American country. When visiting Colombia, make sure these destinations are on your itinerary.
What do you imagine when you hear the name of the South American country, Colombia?
We might have a clue, but try to think again, and don't say aloud the first thing which has come to your mind. Colombia is trying hard in the last decade or so to get rid off stereotypes often connected with the country's dark past, and the endeavor is now finally bearing fruit.
Over the past few years, Colombia has experienced a tremendous increase in the number of travelers arriving in the country, and we couldn't be happier.
Colombia was the first country where we landed after a year spent in Canada, with all our belongings in the backpack.
We were excited, but also a bit scared because we did not know what to expect. Is it a truth that all violent shadows from the past are gone and we can travel freely around the country without the constant fear of being robbed, or should we cover only the well-trodden path and cross borders to Ecuador as soon as we can?
These were exactly our thoughts, and although Colombia still naturally has issues which simply can not dissolve overnight, and you should always use your common sense when traveling around, the country treated us more than well. In the end, we spent in Colombia more than two months, and this country ignited our wanderlust which has not stopped until today.
Colombia is a country of contrasts.
Beautiful coast with white sand beaches and rough waves passes stealthily into high Andes mountains covered with ice and snow, and when exploring the red hot desert, you wouldn't believe that you are still in the same country. Then you can move to colorful colonial cities, or look for the lost city deep in the jungle and carry on to Amazon Rainforest.
And of course, coffee!
It seems that Colombia has it all, and it is not an easy task to choose the top destination one should visit.
We've handpicked ten places you can't miss when in Colombia. Try to put them all on your travel itinerary!
#1 LOS NEVADOS NATIONAL PARK
If anyone had told us before traveling to Colombia, that our favorite thing and one of the most memorable places would be hiking in Los Nevados National Park, we would not have believed him for many reasons. One of them is that we’d never heard about this park before.
Yet, it is the truth.
Walking through the unique and fragile ecosystem called paramo, seeing 5000 meters high volcano peaks covered with snow up close, and even climbing the glacier of Nevado Santa Isabel is still very high on the list of best places we've done in South America.
But not only nature was the reason why we enjoyed Los Nevados National Park so much. Another reason was the incredible hospitality of people living in the park. You can hike in the national park only for one day, but honestly, to get the raw experience, we suggest you to stay at least overnight. When working on your Colombia itinerary, try to allocate two to four days to fully appreciate the beauty of Los Nevados National Park.
We opted for the four days three nights hike with Paramo Trek (it is not recommended to hike in the park alone), and thanks to them and their knowledgeable guides enjoyed our time the best we could.
Salento is one of the most popular destinations between travelers, and we also enjoyed our time here. Not only Salento is a picturesque town nestled high in the Andes and surrounded by sloping green hills, but it also lies in Colombia's Zona Cafetera.
And it means only one thing.
Coffee in Salento is everywhere.
You can taste a cup of coffee on the streets, visit one of the top coffee houses, or like we did, head directly to the source. In Salento, we took a coffee plantation tour, saw the whole process of how coffee is made, and at the end, we could, of course, taste several different varieties of coffee, which was for many of us the main reason why to visit a farm.
But Salento has one more tourist attraction, and it is Cocora Valley which is located only 20 minutes drive from Salento. Cocora Valley Hike is often the reason why to visit Salento in the first place.
Who wouldn't like to hike among giant wax palms, national trees of Colombia, which can be up to 60 meters tall?
#3 TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK
Are you looking for a place in Colombia where you can totally unwind?
Well, you've just found it. Tayrona National Park is one of the most sought-after destinations in Colombia, and for a good reason.
Beautiful white sand beaches, deep jungle, monkeys jumping from one tree to another, rough sea, coconuts falling from high palms, and sweaty hikes.
All of this is Tayrona National Park.
We stayed in a camp for three nights (three insanely hot nights), and we genuinely enjoyed our time in the park.
Swimming, exploring the jungle or relaxing on one of many beaches are the main activities here, and to have the most of your time, we recommend you to spend at least one night in the park so you won't feel rushed.
We know that Tayrona National Park has from time to time a problem with over-tourism, especially during peak dates such as summer season, holidays and weekends when locals travel a lot.
Try to plan your visit accordingly as the number of visitors can hugely affect your experience.
The usual base for visiting Tayrona National Park is an unappealing city of Santa Marta, where you can spend a night before traveling to the park, and you can leave your stuff in one of many hotels offering the service.
The city of eternal spring, Medellin, is a place you can't miss when in Colombia.
Not visiting is simply not an option.
Medellin is the second largest city in the country, and it is incredible to watch almost live how it is changing and improving.
Who wouldn't know at least bits of a sad history of Medellin? Murders, poverty and drug cartels were everyday bread here in Medellin and the city was once called the most dangerous city in the world. But thankfully, Medellin is nowadays a city of transformation, and although it still has problems, the city has become a must-visit place for travelers, and a cool place to work and live for expats and travel bloggers.
Neighborhoods in Medellin such as notoriously known favela Comuna 13 are not off limits anymore (although you still should rather visit with a guide), and the city center is thriving. One of the highlights in Medellin is taking a city tour, where you will learn more about the complicated past, but also about old and new architecture. Walk the streets in Medellin with your eyes wide open, because street art and graffiti are everywhere around.
When in the area, we recommend you to take a one-day trip to Piedra del Penol and colonial colorful city of Guatape.
Jardin is a small town not that far from Medellin, and it quickly became one of our most favorite places we've visited in Colombia.
Maybe it was the laidback feel, maybe the coffee culture we could observe on the main square, one way or the other, we kept extending our stay in Jardin.
Colombia has many pretty colonial towns where it is easy to lose track of time and solely indulge life without feeling rushed - we think this is one of the most important commodities people nowadays seek when traveling, and Jardin is exactly the place where you can do it without feeling guilty.
We would like to tell you that Jardin is still a well-kept secret and a place on off the beaten path, but we are not sure about it anymore.
Thankfully, the town still keeps its charm and authentic atmosphere.
As Jardin is set amidst lush green hills, you can explore the countryside, do horseback riding, take an old cable car for splendid views or go looking for cock-of-the-rock, a beautifully colored native bird of South America.
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Cartagena is a captivating city, a place you unquestionably cannot miss when in the country.
Cartagena, the crown jewel of Colombia, is a large city with an international airport, and it is not an exception that for some people this city on the Carribean Coast is the first destination they have on the ultimate Colombia itinerary.
Colorful and narrow colonial streets, unique houses with photogenic doors, location close to the sea, street vendors selling exotic fruits, lively vibe, complicated history, architecture, coffee, buzzing nightlife, many cute coffee houses, and restaurants, it seems that Cartagena has it all and it is hard to resist.
And why should you?
Yes, the city is touristy, but we think it is not a reason why not to enjoy it.
In Cartagena, you can always find a little cute photogenic door no one has ever captured before, get lost in a street only locals know about or meet a local who remember old times and wants to share his memories with you. As you can see, there are many best things you can do in Cartagena.
If you have only one day, you should not skip walking the historic center and the streets of Getsemani, but if you can, plan a day or two more so you can take a one day trip outside Cartagena, have time to look for street art or visit an iconic fortress Castillo de San Felipe.
#7 VILLA DE LEYVA
Only a couple of hours drive from Bogota lies Villa de Leyva, a well-preserved colonial town where the architecture hasn't changed much from the 16th century.
The town is not exceptional only because of the architecture, colonial buildings and stone streets, but also because of the settings, deep in the surrounding hills which altogether with moody clouds rolling over later in the afternoon create the genius loci and Instagram-like pictures.
When in Villa de Leyva, you cannot miss the central square, which is one of the largest plazas in the Americas!
Nestled between green hills, Bogota, the capital city of Colombia is the kind of place you need to get used to it a bit, but when you do, the city will reciprocate.
Generally, capital cities in South and Central America are often not highlights on travel itineraries, but Bogota is different.
Yes, the streets are crowded, you can see enormous poverty everywhere around even when you wander off the center only for a couple of hundred meters, and drivers are honking their horns without reason. Still, Bogota has an unmistakable atmosphere, and if you travel solely to Colombia, chances are you will land here, and the city will be the first destination in the country.
There are plenty of things to do in Bogota, and you can easily spend here three or four days if you wish.
If you don't know where to start exploring, join a free walking tour where you get the general knowledge of Bogota's history, and see most of the architectural attractions in the city. Bogota is also well-known for museums (you should not miss Museo del Oro and Museo Botero), Cerro de Monserrate offering perfect views over the city, street art, and graffiti.
Our Tip: Bogota's city center is a place where everyone wants to be, not only tourists but locals as well - those especially on weekends. Watch your belongings all the time. My phone was stolen when leisurely walking on the main street in the center. If you want to know more about safety in South America, read our detailed post.
#9 SAN AGUSTIN
For us, San Agustin is a bit special, because due to Martin’s injury we spent here much longer than planned.
For a regular traveler, we recommend visiting San Agustin for at least two days.
The small town is unique for the picturesque settings (the most common way how to get around points of interests is by jeep or on horseback), and especially for the UNESCO archeological site. The park is pretty vast you can spend here anything between three to four hours to see all the statues, tombs and carvings in the park.
We must admit, that Colombian cuisine was not our favorite, so we couldn't be happier when we found true gem in San Agustin, a vegetarian restaurant called El Tomate.
Barichara is sometimes called the prettiest town in Colombia.
But it is really hard to tell which one of the colonial cities in such a large country is the best.
We liked Barichara not only for the cobbled stone streets and churches but also because we could combine this trip with the six kilometers long hike from Barichara to even smaller village Guane which made this day quite special.
Barichara lies close to a bigger city San Gil which is often nicknamed adventure capital of Colombia, so you can either stay in Barichara or only visit it on a one day trip from San Gil.
These are the 10 best places you should not miss when in Colombia.
We've visited all of them, but time and money did not allow us to see everything (is it even possible?).
But at least, there is a reason why to once come back, right?
If not traveling on a low budget, we believe that Lost City, Cano Cristales River, and San Andrés and Providencia would have made it on an extended list of places you must visit when in Colombia.
WHAT TO PACK FOR TRAVELING IN COLOMBIA
We've created an ultimate packing list for South America, but here are five essential things you should pack with you for Colombia.
GoPro | Colombia is a country where you can try many outdoor activities, so we would opt for an adventure camera to capture all your memories without being worried to break it.
Sunscreen | Sun protection is necessary in every country in South America.
TRAVEL INSURANCE - SIMPLE & FLEXIBLE
We never leave our home without travel insurance which is designed to help cover your expenses if something goes wrong on your trip. World Nomads Travel Insurance has been designed by travelers for travelers, to cover your trip essentials.
Travel smarter and safer!