Colombia is quickly becoming one of South America’s hottest destinations. With its colonial towns, sandy beaches, captivating scenery, sprawling cities, jungle treks and vibrant street art, Colombia has destinations to suit every kind of traveler. Coffee lovers will be delighted to hear that Colombia’s coffee is among the best in the world! Read on to learn more about the 15 most beautiful places in Colombia.
The coastal Caribbean city is a popular cruise ship stop. The colonial Old Town of Cartagena is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can spend hours wandering the streets, sipping on fresh lemonade and admiring the architecture. Climb to the top of the fortress Castillo San Felipe to take in views of the city. If you are interested in graffiti and street art, visit the vibrant neighbourhood of Getsemaní.
LAS LAJAS SANCTUARY
Las Lajas Sanctuary is one of the world’s most interesting churches because it was built over a deep canyon. It is 100m from the bottom of the canyon and connected to the other side by a bridge. With its Gothic architecture, it almost looks more like a fairytale castle than a church. Legend has it that years ago a mother and daughter were lost in a storm when the deaf-mute daughter saw the image of the Virgin Mary in the canyon and miraculously gained the ability to speak and hear. This is why a church was built in this spot.
Original Photo Credit: La Iglesia de las Lajas (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Babak Fakhamzadeh
After a 40 minute motorbike ride up a muddy mountain, we made it to Casa Elemento – a hostel somewhere up in the clouds in Minca. Minca is 600m high up in the Serra Nevada above Santa Marta. Here, you will breathe fresh and crisp air, overlook mountains and valleys of endless green and be enthralled by the surrounding nature whilst chilling on one of the largest hammocks. It’s easy to see why Minca has become an increasingly popular spot for traveller retreats. You really can’t help but completely relax and let go of whatever may be burdening you. I was bitten by a dog and even that didn’t get to me. Seriously.
The best way to explore the area is on a motorcycle tour with a local guide. This way, you can get to all waterfalls and the infamous coffee farms in the area minus the slow speeds in a larger car. Coffee lovers will enjoy seeing a coffee finca to better understand the production from plant to cup. Minca is also a great base for mountain biking, bird watching and hiking.
– Amanda from LVV Travel
The Cocora Valley outside of the charming town of Salento, Columbia is a playground for nature lovers and a travel photographer’s dream. From the town of Salento, you can take a shared Jeep known as a Willy from the central square for a lovely 20-30 minute ride. Setting out you have two options, you can continue straight up the road (moving backwards) which takes you directly to the main valley of the wax palms, or you can follow the path to the right and head in the traditional direction. Following the second option, you emerge in a valley surrounded by massive forested hills, some of which have been cleared and you can watch cowboys herding their cattle. As the valley is almost always masked by continuously shifting clouds, it makes for some dramatic scenery. As you walk you will follow a small stream which eventually leads into a cloud forest.
Hiking through the forest, you have the option to stop at a beautiful hummingbird sanctuary, before eventually reaching the top with more flowers and hummingbirds. As you hike down you will pass several stunning viewpoints where you can see the world’s tallest palm trees, the giant wax palm. As the clouds move through the view is constantly shifting and makes for some surreal and moody photography. As you continue the path down you will eventually enter the main valley, where it is possible to walk through the field beside the towering palms. This natural wonder will not only remain etched in your memory for years to come, but will also provide you with photographs that will awaken the wanderlust in friends, family and fellow travelers.
-Tara from Nutrition Abroad
Santa Marta, a colonial beach town, is a popular stopover on the way to Tayrona National Park, Minca or La Ciudad Perdida. In 1525, Santa Marta was chosen by the Spanish as their first settlement in South America because of its gold. Visit the Museo del Oro to learn about the fascinating history of the area and people-watch in Parque de los Novios. Near the park are many restaurants where you can enjoy fresh seafood.
Medellin, a city surrounded by beautiful green hills, is called the “City of Eternal Spring” due to its warm temperatures. Once known as the most dangerous city on earth due to drug violence, it has undergone a radical transformation in recent years. An award-winning metrocable system has connected the city’s poorer neighbourhoods to the business district, improving quality of life for citizens. As a result, Medellin was named “Innovative City of the Year” in 2013. Street art projects for youth, especially in Comuna 13, have helped reduce crime. Medellin is steadily becoming a safe and popular destination for tourists from around the world!
Many visitors are underwhelmed by the daunting, cold and polluted Colombia capital that does not correspond with the stereotypical image of Colombia. Bogotá is no Caribbean beach or Amazon jungle, but a beautiful, mountainous city with much to offer!
The cobbled streets of the Candelaria, the main touristic area, is full of character, where you can see some incredible graffiti and colourful, old colonial houses. A short hike or a cable car will take you up to Monserrate, which offers a stunning view over the city. Venture further North, and you will find the trendy restaurants and bars of Chapinero. The artesanal market in Usaquén is unmissable, loved by local families and foreigners alike. The Sunday ciclovia is a fantastic experience – whether you want to rent a bike or just walk, you can enjoy the city without vehicles. Finally, don’t miss out on the street food and fresh juices available on every corner.
-Yoanne from Unblown Away
Bogota is also famous for its interesting street art!
Colombia has a lot to offer and even though most people fly into Bogota they often move onto other areas without giving the city a chance. I had a day in Bogota and had heard great things about the Graffiti Tour there. This is an original and authentic graffiti and street art tour that is actually run and guided by street artists and people directly involved in the Bogota urban art scene. The tour is free, but remember to tip your guide (believe me, they are worth it).
-Nicole from Travelgal Nicole
The Guajira is the arid, desert region of Colombia that marks the northernmost point of South America. The Guajira, inhabited by the indigenous Wayuu tribe, is notoriously difficult to get to and therefore beautifully untouched – a hidden gem for adventurous travellers! A full-day’s journey through the bumpy desert highway will take you to Cabo de Vela, a small local village where the houses back onto the sea. Here you can enjoy some of the most beautiful sunsets in Colombia. It’s also a great spot for kite-surfing enthusiasts! If that isn’t remote enough, you can catch a boat on a vicarious journey to Punta Gallinas, a virgin paradise. You will be surrounded nothing but scorching, golden desert where giant sand dunes run into the sea and it feels like you are at the edge of the world.
Don’t forget to pick up the famous, traditional, hand-knitted Wayuu bag at the source, from the indigenous ladies themselves and for a fraction of the price you would get anywhere else. Foodies definitely must try some freshly caught fish and – if you’re lucky – lobster for just $25.000 (That’s $7USD!)
-Yoanne from Unblown Away
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TAYRONA NATIONAL PARK
Immerse yourself in nature by sleeping in a hammock in Tayrona National Park.
If what you long for is a hike through a breathtaking jungle topped with swimming in the Caribbean sea, then Tayrona and you were meant to be. A quick ride away from Santa Marta, the entrance of this national park is easy to get to. You can either hike or ride a horse to get to the coastline – there are several beaches, but beware of the currents! Admire the nature, snorkel around and sip fresh coconut water – when you get tired of resting, you can also hike the nearby hill to the ruins of Pueblito or check out the nudist beach. Tayrona has drinkable water, however, food is expensive so it is a good idea to bring some supplies if you are on the budget side of travel!
-Karin from Girl Astray
LA CIUDAD PERDIDA
The most spectacular place I visited in Colombia is ‘The Lost City’, la Ciudad Perdida. It’s an ancient city hidden in the jungle in the north of Colombia that was founded by Tairona Indians in approximately 800 A.D. The place was abandoned when Spanish conquistadors arrived in the late 16th century and discovered again by the outside world in the early 1970s when a group of treasure looters stumbled upon a series of staircases. If you want to visit Ciudad Perdida keep in mind that the trek to get there is absolutely no walk in the park. You will walk 4 or 5 long days through the jungle accompanied by a guide and swarms of mosquitoes. But the path through the jungle is just fantastic! Along the way you will bathe in the river at beautiful waterfalls, enjoy wonderful viewpoints, sleep in the jungle and see the indigenous villages and the people. Visiting la Ciudad Perdida is definitely a once in a lifetime experience.
-Chantal from Alleen Op Reis
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San Andres is a small island in the Caribbean that belongs to Colombia. As it is located in Nicaraguan and Costa Rican waters, it is a duty-free zone. Since there are no ferries to the island, you can only get there by plane. The island has some of the country’s best beaches. In fact, San Andres was named South America’s leading beach destination back in 2015. The crystal-clear blue waters surrounding the island are the perfect place to go snorkeling or scuba-diving.
Original Photo Credit: HMCV_783 (CC BY-ND 2.0) by Eugenio Celedon
Often called the “River of Five Colours” or the “Liquid Rainbow”, Caño Cristales is a river that displays red, yellow, orange, green and blue colours from July to November every year. The red colour appears because of the Macarenia clavigera plant which grows in the riverbed. The river mostly looks red, but depending on which angle you look at the river, you may also see other colours because of the black rocks, green algae, blue water and yellow sand.
Caño Cristales was closed from 1989 to 2009 because of dangerous guerilla activity in the area. However, since then it has become safer and tourists are permitted to visit. The Colombian military now has control of a 30km area around La Macarena, the gateway town to the park. However, in order to protect the delicate environment of the park, tourists can only visit with a guided tour, and less than 200 are allowed per day. To get to Caño Cristales, first take a flight or bus to Villavicencio from Bogota. Then from Villavicencio, take a plane to La Macarena. From there, a guide will take you to the river by foot or horseback. As there is no other place like this on earth, the journey is well worth the effort for the adventurous!
Original Photo Credit: Caño Cristales, el río de colores, en La Macarena Meta (CC BY 2.0) by Fotur Colombia
Guatape is often referred to as Colombia’s most colourful town. Each house is painted a bright colour and the lower half is decorated with frescoes of people, shapes, or animals. Even the tuk-tuks used to transport tourists are painted with bright patterns. It is just two hours away from Medellin by bus, making it the perfect day trip!
EL PIEDRA DE PENOL
Just minutes away from the town of Guatape is the towering Piedra del Penol, also known as the “Rock of Guatape”. In 1954 a group of locals was the first to climb the rock, taking five days. At the top they discovered a spectacular view! A viewing platform and stairs were built and the rock has since become a popular tourist attraction. It takes about 20 minutes to ascend the rock’s 740 steps. The climb is a lot easier than it looks as the stairs are wide and you can stop for breaks. Near the summit of the rock is a cafe where you can relax and have a snack or drink.
Jardin is a coffee town in the Antioquia department of Colombia. Like Guatape, it has beautiful brightly-coloured buildings, but Jardin is more off-the-beaten-path and less touristy. In the town square, locals like to enjoy a coffee or a beer at the tables. Even the tables and chairs here are colourful! It is an interesting place to sit and people-watch. Many men in the town wear cowboy hats. If you are a bird-watcher, Jardin is also famous for bird-watching! Keep an eye out for the Andean cock-of-the-rock! Be sure to visit a coffee farm to learn about the coffee-making process. Take a ride in a classic wooden cable car to see a view of the town and surrounding mountains.
Original Photo Credit: Jardin, Colombia (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Pedro Szekely