Famously known as “the prettiest town in Colombia,” the stunning little pueblo of Barichara in the Santander department definitely lives up to its reputation. Its cobbled streets, whitewashed walls, and red-tiled roofs are any Hollywood filmmaker’s dream. Unlike many other towns on this list, Barichara’s beauty doesn’t exclude any of its neighborhoods. Getting there is an easy 35-minute drive from the adventure sports capital of San Gil and makes for a great day trip.
Famous for producing the iconic Aguadeño hats—a Colombian version of Panama hats—the little town of Aguadas is located in the Caldas department, one of the three regions that make up Colombia’s coffee triangle. The traditions of the town have been remarkably well-preserved and its inhabitants are incredibly friendly. The town can be reached by a bus ride from Manizales.
Another of Colombia’s oldest towns (founded in 1539), Honda was once one of the country’s most important river ports along the Magdalena River and is known as the City of Bridges for its more than 40 bridges across the Magdalena and other nearby rivers. Its historical center features some wonderfully preserved buildings and a fascinating museum about the river to explore. It’s an almost four-hour drive from Bogotá and makes for an excellent weekend trip.
The small town of Guaduas, located on the highway that links Bogotá to Honda, is famous in Colombia for being the birthplace of independence heroine Policarpa Salavarrieta. Its mirador (viewpoint) is particularly stunning and overlooks the town and the distant snowcapped volcanoes of Tolima and Ruiz, which can be seen on a clear day.
Jardín is a lovely town in the southern Antioquia department, which is famous for its perfectly preserved traditional architecture. The town’s buildings are still almost entirely built in the colonial style of Antioquia, with whitewashed walls and colourfully painted doors and windows. Jardín’s main square is always humming with activity and it makes for a popular weekend trip from Medellín, which is a three-hour drive away.
Another town in southern Antioquia (also three hours away from Medellín), Jericó has a buzzing religious tourism industry due to the fact that Colombia’s first saint, Sister Laura Montoya, was born there. Though there are many monuments dedicated to her in the town, there’s a lot more to visit in Jericó and you can even enjoy views of the nearby Cauca Valley.
La Playa de Belén
One of the more difficult Heritage Towns to visit in Colombia, La Playa de Belén (or Bethlehem Beach) is located around 124 miles (200 kilometers) northwest of Cúcuta in the Norte de Santander department. Despite its relatively isolated location, La Playa is well worth the trip and is surely one of the most beautiful towns in Colombia. Its perfectly preserved cobbled streets and whitewashed walls make it a charming off-the-beaten-path location like Barichara.
Another of the three Heritage Towns located in the Santander region, Socorro was founded in 1681 and played a vital part in Colombian history as the location of the Comuneros Revolt of 1781, a small-scale local revolt against Spanish oppression that has since been considered an important precursor to Colombia’s independence movement. Located just half an hour from San Gil, it’s an easy day trip.
Founded in 1601, the town of Monguí is located in the Boyacá department. Much less known than its popular neighbor, Villa de Leyva, Monguí is underrated but worth taking the time to visit (it’s a simple weekend trip from Bogotá). With beautiful colonial architecture, the town is one of the best hidden gems in Colombia.
Salamina is one of two Heritage Towns located in the Caldas department and one of the most important and celebrated towns on this list. It’s known as the City of Light because of all the poets, writers, actors, and musicians it has produced but also often called Mother of Nations—it was from Salamina that the founders of many nearby cities set out. A two-hour drive from Manizales will get you there.
Santa Cruz de Lorica
One of only a few Heritage Towns located along Colombia’s coast, Santa Cruz de Lorica is situated in the Córdoba department about one hour from the regional capital of Montería. Lorica was once the site of Syrian and Lebanese immigration, which is reflected its unique and beautiful architectural style and makes its riverside marketplace a delightful place to visit.
San Juan de Girón
Located just outside Santander’s capital, Bucaramanga, Girón is a beautiful place rich in colonial architecture with a pleasant main square. Famous for its balconies and coffee-colored windows, Girón can easily be visited by taking a bus from Bucaramanga.
Santa Cruz de Mompox
Santa Cruz de Mompox is situated on the banks of a branch of the Magdalena River and is famous for its perfectly preserved buildings and beautiful riverside views. Its delightful historical center was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995 and the fact that the town is located on an island with no bridges gives it an isolated feeling that adds to its unique charm.
Located along Colombia’s northern coast less than an hour away from the backpacker hotspot of Santa Marta, Ciénaga is one of the least known of the country’s Heritage Towns. What once started off as an indigenous village has since become an instrumental part of Colombia’s Caribbean history. The town’s lovely historic center was declared a Colombian National Cultural Heritage Site in 1996.
Santa Fe de Antioquia
Founded in 1541 and once the former capital of the Antioquia department—a distinction now belonging to Medellín which is just 50 miles (80 kilometers) to the south—Santa Fe de Antioquia has long been one of the most popular Heritage Towns for tourism due to its proximity to a major Colombian city, warm and pleasant climate, and beautiful colonial architecture.
Villa de Leyva
One of Colombia’s most popular small towns and perhaps the most well-known Heritage Town on the list of 17, Villa de Leyva is a delightful pueblo of stunning cobbled alleys and one of the largest plazas in South America. With a variety of boutique hotels and restaurants and plenty of surrounding tourist attractions, its popularity is more than justified. Villa de Leyva can be visited easily on a weekend trip from Bogotá.
Guadalajara de Buga
Buga is one of the oldest cities in Colombia: it was founded back in 1555 when it was the home of several wealthy Spanish families. Buga is especially famous within Colombia for its church, the Basilica del Señor de Los Milagros, which contains an image of Christ known as The Lord of the Miracles that receives around 3 million visitors each year. Buga is a short one-hour drive from the city of Cali.