Colombia’s burgeoning reputation as one of the most exciting countries to travel to right now has seen a dramatic rise in the number of tourists visiting the South American nation over the past five years. While tourism in Colombia is still small compared to many other more well-known countries, certain parts of the country have become very touristy, and people are starting to look for alternative options. So, read on to discover 11 amazing alternatives to Colombia’s tourist traps.
The perfect alternative to the increasingly jam-packed Salento, Filandia is a delightful little traditional town in the heart of the Coffee Region. With perfectly preserved traditional architecture, excellent coffee, a good selection of hostels and hotels, and some of the best restaurants in the whole region, Filandia is a great option if you want to experience a Coffee Region town without the crowds.
The Samaria Valley
The Cocora Valley is home to some of the tallest palm trees in the world and draws tens of thousands of travellers each year. However, the pristinely beautiful Samaria Valley – around an hour from Salamina in Caldas department – has three times the number of majestic Wax Palms and far fewer visitors!
The Rosario Islands near Cartagena are one of Colombia’s biggest tourist traps, and popular beaches like Playa Blanca can be absolutely swamped with people, particularly during the Colombian holiday season. The off-the-beaten-track little island of Isla Fuerte lies a bit farther afield than the other islands, but it sees a fraction of the visitors and offers paradise beaches, world-class diving and sloths in your hostel garden!
Most travellers make a bee-line from the Coffee Region straight to Medellin, or vice-versa, and they miss out on one of Colombia’s loveliest cities: Manizales. This mountainous, student city combines a beautiful natural setting with an exciting range of tourist activities and has a vibrant, modern vibe, particularly in the neighbourhood known as Cable Plaza. Consider cutting your time in Medellin by a few days and enjoying some time in Manizales instead.
San Jose del Guaviare
Colombia’s Amazon tourism is generally limited to Leticia in the extreme south of the country, but there are other exciting and beautiful alternatives throughout the vast rainforest regions. One such option is San Jose del Guaviare in Guaviare department. At just a seven-hour bus ride from Bogota, you can be in the jungle in no time, enjoying views of wild monkeys, pink river dolphins, and ancient Indigenous cave paintings.
The two Colombian Caribbean islands of San Andres and Providencia couldn’t be much more different from each other: while San Andres is extremely touristy and developed, Providencia retains a truly authentic island vibe. Even though the distance between the two islands is tiny – the flight takes 15 minutes – a visit to Providencia is a much better option for anyone in search of a tranquil Caribbean paradise.
While the town of San Gil has become established as Colombia’s adventure sports capital, tiny little Tamesis has yet to develop an equal reputation. Located in the south of Antioquia and home to some excellent paragliding, caving, rappelling, and zip-lining activities, Tamesis is a perfect place to enjoy adventure sports away from the backpacker hordes.
La Playa de Belen
Barichara is commonly called ‘the most beautiful town in Colombia’, and tourists flock there to take advantage of its laid-back vibe, boutique hotels and, most importantly, remarkably scenic streets and architecture. The tiny town of Playa de Belen, in nearby Norte de Santander region, is perhaps even more visually stunning than Barichara, and it’s very likely that you’ll be the only tourist in town!
Of all the stunning Heritage Towns in Colombia, the little town of Salamina in Caldas department is one of the least well known and remains an incredibly under-visited destination when you consider its wonderful mix of traditional architecture, excellent boutique hotels and stunning natural setting. If you are in search of a delightful, traditional little Colombian town to visit, forget Jardin or Salento and consider Salamina (or nearby Aguadas).
The lovely little town of Villa de Leyva in Boyaca department is (rightly) hugely popular with travellers. The town is a magical mix of beautiful architecture, excellent hotels and great restaurants. However, the equally charming Mongui is also located in the Boyaca region and hardly sees any visitors compared to its famous neighbour. Just as easily accessible from Bogota and with a far more authentic atmosphere, Mongui is one of Colombia’s most underrated destinations.
The beachside village of Palomino has exploded onto the backpacker scene in recent years: Palomino has gone from having one hostel six years ago to perhaps 50 in 2018. It’s still a lovely spot, but if you’re looking to replicate Palomino’s intoxicating mix of crystalline rivers, Caribbean beaches, and coastal rainforest, then look no further than Buritaca. With an excellent beach, one of Colombia’s best backpacker hostels, and many of the same activities as Palomino – including the eternally popular tubing – Buritaca makes an attractive alternative.