Colombia, with its incredible mountains, rivers, caves, oceans and lakes, is an amazing place to try a range of extreme sports. From the so-called capital of Colombian extreme sports San Gil to more obscure destinations, it’s one of the best countries on the continent for adrenaline junkies. White-water rafting, caving, kite-surfing, bungee jumping, paragliding and much more – here are Colombia’s best extreme sports and where you can try them out for yourself.
With three ranges of the Andes and thousands of rivers, Colombia is one of the best places to practice white-water rafting. The most famous spot is San Gil in Santander Department – known as Colombia’s Extreme Sports Capital – where trips along the Suarez River are extremely popular. More adventurous rafters can take a multi-day rafting trip along the Samaná River in Antioquia with Expedition Colombia, where dramatic rapids up to level five roll through an isolated jungle canyon.
Paragliding is another of Colombia’s most popular extreme sports and can be practiced in many different parts of the country. Many travelers opt to paraglide over Medellín, where short flights are a popular tourist activity. The real paragliding hub of the country, however, is once again around San Gil – shorter flights of around 15 minutes are an affordable option close to the town, but the real treat is a spectacular 40-minute flight over Colombia’s largest canyon, the majestic Chicamocha Canyon. Paragliding over this magnificent spectacle could well end up being your most memorable Colombian experience.
One of the trickiest extreme sports to master, Kite-surfing is becoming more popular in Colombia, as the country is home to two of the best ocean and freshwater kite-surfing spots in the world. In Cabo de la Vela, on Colombia’s desert Caribbean coast, wind conditions are perfect year round, meaning that kite-surfing is possible almost 365 days per year. There are a number of different kite-surfing schools and hostels in Cabo. Further south, near Cali, Calima Lake is known as one of the best freshwater kite-surfing spots on earth, with excellent winds year-round and a number of experienced instructors operating in the area.
With both Pacific and Caribbean coastlines – the only country in South America to have both – scuba diving in Colombia is extremely popular. The most popular spot is Taganga, on the Caribbean Coast, where introductory courses are cheap and plentiful. The very best diving in the Caribbean, however, is around the islands of San Andres and Providencia, where UNESCO-protected reefs protect populations of sharks, turtles and dolphins. The real Holy Grail of Colombian diving is in the Pacific region: Gorgona and Malpelo islands are hard to reach, but offer some truly spectacular diving, with whale sharks, humpback whales and Hammerhead sharks commonly encountered.
As a country of huge mountains and canyons, there are some wonderful spots to enjoy rock climbing in Colombia, but there are two places that really stand out. The first is the small town of Suesca, just to the north of Bogotá. Here there are some massive cliffs that are perfect for climbers of all levels, and several companies that lead rock climbing activities. The other amazing place is in the aforementioned Chicamocha Canyon, where a beautiful hostel named Refugio La Roca – near the delightful town of Mesa de los Santos – offers over 200 bolted climbing routes in the La Mojarra climbing park.
Another popular extreme sport among backpackers, in particular, Colombian surfing is especially good on the Pacific Coast, where waves are larger and more reliable than on the comparatively calm Caribbean. Surfing hotspots on the Pacific Coast include the small villages of Bahia Solano, El Valle and Nuqui, where many hostels and hotels offer surfboard rental and classes. The Humpback Turtle Hostel in El Valle, where they rent out boards by the hour, is perfect for beginners, while El Cantil Ecolodge offers more advanced courses around Playa Guachalito and Cabo Corrientes. On the Caribbean Coast, Costeño Beach surf-camp is the perfect spot for casual surfers and beginners.
‘Spelunking’ – or caving as it is more commonly called – is another popular extreme sport throughout Colombia. Curiti, near San Gil – a pattern is definitely emerging! – is the home of the coolest caving experience: the Cueva de la Vaca, or Cow’s Cave. It has to be explored with a tour, as hard-hats, lamps and knowledge of the cave’s myriad tunnels are all required, and guests will certainly get wet, often finding themselves in neck-deep water. The reward though is a truly special caving experience, with giant stalactites and stalagmites at every turn and a silence you won’t find elsewhere in Colombia!
San Gil is once again the best spot for bungee jumping. A number of operators offer the stomach-clenching activity, but the best option is ‘Colombia Bungee Jumping,’ an excellent company who offer an amazing jump of over 70 meters from a crane suspended over the Fonce River just outside of San Gil. The beautiful surroundings and white-water river down below – which heavier jumpers can even dunk their head into at the base of the jump – make it the best spot in Colombia for bungee jumping.
With no shortage of waterfalls, Colombia is a great country to practice abseiling and rappelling. There are amazing spots to enjoy this extreme sport throughout the country, but several experiences stand out above the rest: the giant Fin del Mundo waterfall in the depths of the jungle in Putumayo Department, Juan Curí waterfall in the Chicamocha Canyon and Barandillas waterfall near the small town of Tobia, which is 75 meters high. However, most popular tourist towns offer abseiling activities, such are the number of spectacular waterfalls in the country.
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