Exceptional diving, pristine nature, sensational architecture and archaeological sites, as well as great food, fantastic coffee and the kind of alluring exotic culture that’ll make you want to swap your residency after just one visit: Colombia is all that. Check out all the best Things to do in Colombia – and discover why this is the epitome destination for travellers with an insatiable hunger for utterly unique travel experiences.
Once renowned as a sanctuary for drug lords and all sorts of shady characters of ill-repute, Colombia has truly blossomed into one of the most delightful and rewarding travel destination in all of Latin America. To discerning travellers, those who consistency look for underrated meccas, Colombia has been a paradise of adventurous exploits for quite a few years now, and although the country has actually been a very safe place to visit for more than a decade it seems to have recently reached a cult-like status among lovers of all things Latin American.
So why is Colombia the hottest word on everyone’s lips, you ask? Read on and find out!
Colombia’s Best Highlights
From mysterious pre-Inca ruins to charming colonial historic centres, thriving modern cities, breathtaking mountains, outstanding coral reefs, Caribbean beaches, salsa dancing and even a titillating slice of the Amazon: if you’re looking for a comprehensive taste of all that is deliciously Latin American, Colombia delivers BIG time.
For most travellers, the capital city of Bogotá gifts the first real taste of Colombia, and what a delectable taste it is. The vibrant city’s resurgence has resulted in a swathe of gentrified suburbs, with trendy restaurants, hotels, bars and cafés opening at a head-spinning speed all over the city. With copious options of high-end shopping, fine-dining, museum hopping, street-art admiring and a sensational nightlife that’ll turn you into a party-owl, Bogotá is worthy of a few days’ stay at the very least. Meander through artsy La Candelaria quarter, get acquainted with Botero’s masterpieces at his eponymous museum, weave through a cluster of glittering skyscrapers and take a relaxing stroll through the colourful botanical gardens. Day trips to nearby attractions (such as striking underground Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá) can be reason enough to stay an extra day.
Even in the midst of Colombia’s most tumultuous years, Cartagena’s splendour never dulled. Widely regarded as South America’s best preserved colonial city, this is a place which showcases its less-than-stellar past in tremendous fashion. This walled, now UNESCO-listed treasure may have been literally built on the sweat-drenched back of slaves and miners yet instead of shying away from its past Cartagena pays homage to it in a breathtaking way. Set in a picturesque cove along the Caribbean Coast and boasting dreamy architecture, a rainbow of colours and oozing romance at every turn, Cartagena will capture your heart in a mere second, so make sure you plan to spend plenty of days here to soak up the sights of grand plazas, imposing cathedrals, fortresses, flower-filled balconies and enticing maze of cobblestone streets.
During the days of Pablo Escobar, Medellin was famously thriving for all the wrong reasons. Yet nowadays, it’s foreign tourists who spill out of its busy streets by day and head up into the surrounding hills by night in search of that ‘iconic’ night-time view. Set in a narrow valley and framed by imposing and very picturesque mountains, and now boasting a popular cable-car system that saw it voted one of the world’s ‘most innovative cities’, Medellin is trying hard to lure tourists with promises of an amazing welcome, delicious food, excellent nightlife and an impressive list of things to see and do. The city’s increasing popularity testament to the fact that all those promises are more than fulfilled.
Tayrona National Park
It’s hard to play favourites in a country which boasts 58 protected nature reserves, making up over 10% of its territory. But in Colombia, the crowd-fave tag is awarded to Tayrona, a splendid national parks which literally hugs the Caribbean coasts, sits on the base of the Nevada de Santa Marta Mountain Range and offers sparkling beaches, luscious jungles, verdant rainforests and even arid deserts, all inhabited by a flurry of endemic wildlife, many of which are critically endangered. Some say this stretch of coast is South America’s prettiest and once you reach one of the dreamy beaches, shaded by coconut trees and framed by picturesque mountain peaks you may well agree. Tayrona makes a phenomenal ‘last stop’ on a whirlwind tour of Colombia and is the perfect place to kick back for a couple of days, cocktail in hand, reading a book in a hammock and anticipating the sunset every day. Life and travel in Colombia rarely get better than this!
Ciudad Perdida – The Lost City
Once you learn that it takes 6 days of intense hiking through 50km of unforgivable jungle terrain to reach La Ciudad Perdida, you may no longer wonder how this ancient treasure managed to stay hidden for so long. Discovered merely three decades ago and built more than 600 years before Peru’s famous Machu Picchu, the Lost City of Colombia offers the country’s most challenging yet rewarding adventure, least of all for the fact that it’s still very much a hidden – and painfully hard to reach – highlight. The BBC called an adventure to The Lost City an ideal way to satisfy an Indiana Jones fantasy and if you’re an avid hiker (of average fitness) and adventure-seeker you may have just found your Colombian trekking dream.
San Agustin Archaeological Park
Colombia is an ancient culture lover’s paradise, boasting an impressive number of world-class archaeological sites. One of the most popular and easily accessible is San Agustin, home to gargantuan pre-Inca statues whose true origins remain a mystery to this day. In this complex, the largest megalithic sculpture collection in all of South America, you’ll discover incredible works of art, with animals, warriors and mythical figures carved from volcanic rocks weighing tons and measuring up to 4 metres in height. Straddling both sides of the Rio Magdalena Gorge and sitting at an elevation of 1800m, the statues are best visited from the small town of San Agustin.
The tombs of Tierradentro
If you’re looking for more archaeological fixes then head down to UNESCO-listed Tierradentro and its underground burial chambers, accessible through a claustrophobic-challenging descent down vertiginous staircases. A total of five ancient sites and two museums can easily be visited on a full day trip from the gorgeous village of San Andres de Pisimbala, in southwestern Colombia, one of the lesser-visited of all the country’s highlights.
Hot and sexy salsa has firmly placed Cali on the map with the vibrant city regarded the undisputed capital of the dreamy dance. Whether or not you can actually shake your bum-bum to the rhythm matters little here, for one of the most magnetic aspects is the sheer bubbly atmosphere of the city. Ironically enough, you may not find Cali featured on many tourism brochures, for this is the one place in Colombia that seems unfazed by the country’s latest tourism boom. And that’s precisely why you should visit. Culturally, this rates as one of the most interesting destinations in the country, a hub of Afro-Colombian heritage that marries the country’s ethnicities to a salsa beat that’s difficult to resist. A genuinely authentic city that seems removed from the rest of the country, Cali and her infectious charm, chic clubs, street food and friendly locals may just entice you to extend your visit.
San Andres Island
For that ultimate Caribbean-dream getaway then feel free to pin San Andres Island to your map. This idyllic speck of coral-fringed haven is revered for its snorkelling, diving, exotic fresh fruits and reggae music, so if that eclectic mix of highlights ticks your boxes then you’ll be in for a treat. Less than 800km off the north-western coast of Colombia, San Andres is all about superlatives: the most crystalline Caribbean waters, the best underwater visibility and swoonworthy temps make a resort stay of a few days about as perfect as all that sounds. Yet again, another utterly distinct corner of Colombia that doesn’t resemble any other, naturally, culturally and historically.
Best Way to Visit Colombia
Colombia and the northern section of South America is a convenient place to visit because it offers the chance to easily add on a trip anywhere between Patagonia and Central America. Both Santiago (Chile) and Los Angeles (USA) offer swift connections to Colombia and if you wish to make a grand tour loop to include other destinations within Latin America we can arrange that without the need to back track at all.
Weather – Best Time To Visit Colombia
Colombia’s proximity to the Equator means that the temperature changes little during the year and elevation provides the only disparity between day and night. The only noticeable differences are cool nights at high altitude and an increase in rains between April and June, and again in October and November. Tourist high season starts in early December and goes through until February, with a massive surge in regional visitor numbers during the week of Easter. During these periods it’s essential to book well ahead of time. Cartagena, Medellin and Cali boast annual average temps of 26 degrees Celsius, whilst Bogota – at 2,600m above sea level – is a decidedly cooler 15 degrees.
The Fascinating Colombian Culture
One of the most culturally diverse nations in Latin America, Colombia is as fascinating for its history and people as it is for its stunning natural highlights. The eclectic mix of Spanish, European and African influences have shaped each region of the country separately and, even nowadays, it may seem the only thing coastal, countryside and interior region inhabitants have in common with one another is an ardent love of the national football team. Colombia has many faces, many languages, an array of different regional cuisines and distinct cultural attributes. More than three-quarters of the 48.5 million inhabitants boast mixed heritage, with the most common ancestries being European, African and Asian, with many clustering around specific areas of the country.
This kaleidoscope of cultures has created a very enticing cuisine, one which varies dramatically from region to region. Coffee is said to run through the veins of every Colombian and although this is largely true it is also true that the best beans are exported abroad, so it can be deceptively difficult to find a really good cuppa outside of the major tourist destinations. Flipping fresh seafood along the coast is one of the country’s culinary highlights, with the added Caribbean touch of coconut milk and side-serve of corn bread making it a very unique variation. Elsewhere, Colombian cuisine relies heavily on meat and offal, with staples like beans, fried plantains, fresh avocadoes and eggs appearing at just about every meal. What sets Colombian food apart in South America, however, is the presence of exotic Caribbean fruits, which are often whisked into delicious smoothies and sold at street stalls the country over.
Ready to pack your bags and come explore this amazing country? Discover the many faces of Colombia with our comprehensive array of adventure, relaxation, colonial, historical, natural and cultural tours, all perfectly designed to give you the Colombia experience you crave. Contact us for more info.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”