The Best Places to Visit in Colombia

Caño Cristales, Colombia
Caño Cristales, Colombia | © Mario Carvajal / Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Joel Rabinowitz
5 October 2021

Colombia was a relatively underexplored tourist destination not so long ago, but that’s changed significantly in recent years – and it’s easy to see why. From the culturally rich cities of Bogotá and Medellín to the spectacular landscapes of the Andes and Caribbean coast, Colombia has a huge amount to offer. Here, we’ve hand-selected the best places to visit in Colombia.

With Culture Trip, you can visit Bogotá, Medellín and the Zona Cafetera on our specially curated eight-day Colombian Andes adventure – or trace the Caribbean coastline from Cartagena to Palomino on our exclusive eight-day Colombian Caribbean trip, guided by our Local Insider.

Bogotá

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Colourful houses, Bogota, Colombia, South America
© Robert Harding / Alamy Stock Photo
At 2640m (8661ft) above sea level, Bogotá is the fourth-highest altitude capital in the world. This vibrant city is brimming with cultural attractions: admire the eclectic street art on show in La Candelaria – Bogotá’s oldest barrio – learn about the country’s heritage at the National Museum or Gold Museum or sample delicious street food and fresh fruit at markets such as Paloquemao and La Perseverancia. For panoramic views overlooking the city, head to Mount Monserrate – you can reach the top in an hour on foot, but if you don’t fancy the steep ascent then take the funicular or cable car.

Medellín

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Urban Graffiti In Medellin Colombia South America
© Roger Cracknell / Alamy Stock Photo
Medellín, nicknamed the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ for its pleasant year-round climate, has undergone a dramatic transformation this century. Regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous cities during the 1990s, it has emerged from the conflict-ridden Pablo Escobar-era to become a trendy metropolis, fuelled by technological innovation. A guided walking tour is the best way to appreciate how the city’s troubled past has evolved into a much brighter present. Take the Medellín Metrocable – gondola system connecting the center with hillside barrios – to see the city from above.

Zona Cafetera

Natural Feature
Map View
coffee plantation in the region of Armenia, department of Quindio, Cordillera Central of the Andes mountain range, Colombia, South America.
© Agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo
Colombia’s Unesco-listed coffee-growing region – the Zona Cafetera – covers the departments of Caldas, Risaralda, Quindío and Tolimo and features some of the country’s most picturesque scenery. Think undulating hills covered in a patchwork of coffee plantations, banana trees and bamboo along with colorful, little villages. Plenty of fincas offer immersive tours and tasting experiences here, too. If hiking is your thing, head to Cocora Valley near Salento – renowned for its gigantic Quindío palm trees or Los Nevados National Park – characterized by snow-capped volcanoes, glaciers, lakes and forests.

The Caribbean Coast

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Map View
Beach at Tayrona National Park Santa Marta Colombia
© Renato Granieri / Alamy Stock Photo
Colombia’s Caribbean coast encompasses pristine beaches, dense jungle, vast desert and charming cities. Visit Cartagena – known for its atmospheric walled city – and plan to day-trip to the idyllic Rosario Islands or San Basilio Palenque, the first free African town in the Americas. Continue east along the coast to the Tayrona National Park, where you can hike through the rainforest, swim in secluded lagoons and visit ancient indigenous villages. Elsewhere, the harsh, arid terrain of La Guajira, in the northeast corner – on the border with Venezuela – offers a striking contrast.

Magdalena River Valley

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Valley of river Magdalena in San Agustin, Colombia
© Mirosław Skórka / Alamy Stock Image
Flowing 949mi (1528km) from the high Andes to the Caribbean Sea, the Magdalena River and its surrounding floodplains contain some of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world. These rainforests, wetlands and swamps are home to Magdalena River turtles, brown spider monkeys, South American tapirs, jaguars and a myriad of other species –many of which are sadly critically endangered due to severe habitat destruction. The river was a key strategic route for Spanish conquerors when they arrived in the early 16th-century – establishing towns such as Honda and Mompox, which are worth visiting for their wonderfully preserved colonial architecture.

The Amazon Region

Park
Map View
Landscape of Chiribiquete National Park, around San Jose del Guaviare, Colombia
© Photononstop / Alamy Stock Photo
Colombia contains around 10 percent of the Amazon rainforest – although the total area is continually shrinking due to rampant deforestation. Leticia – next to the border of Peru and Brazil – is the largest city in the Colombian Amazon with a good selection of accommodation options and restaurants. Within the Amazon region lies the Chiribiquete National Park – Colombia’s largest protected area – where table-top rock formations, known as tepuis, rise majestically out of the jungle. It also features the Sistine Chapel of the ancients – an 8mi (12.8km) cliff face adorned with tens of thousands of prehistoric paintings.

The Pacific Coast

Natural Feature
Map View
Palm trees and sandy beach on the Pacific Ocean shore in Choco, Colombia, near Nuqui
© Panther Media / Alamy Stock Photo
Colombia’s Pacific Coast is relatively unexplored, given much of the region can only be accessed by boat or dirt track. Many of the settlements are inhabited by Afro-Colombian communities, whose ancestors arrived in the region as slaves under Spanish colonial rule. As it’s often overlooked on most Colombia itineraries, you’ll discover off-the-beaten-track ecotourism destinations and wild, unspoiled nature here. Nuquí, El Valle and Bahía Solano offer the best choice of accommodation – along with superb surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling and whale watching opportunities.

La Macarena National Park

Natural Feature, Park
Map View
Riverweed (Macarenia clavigera) in river, Cano Cristales, Sierra De La Macarena National Park, Meta, Colombia
© Minden Pictures / Alamy Stock Photo
La Macarena National Natural Park sits at the confluence of three ecosystems: the Amazon, the Andes and the grassy plains of Los Llanos. The dry shrublands, rainforest and rugged mountain terrain are home to pumas, anteaters, red howler monkeys and thousands of more species. The park’s crown jewel is the remote Caño Cristales – also known as the ‘River Of Five Colours’ for its rainbow-like complexion – which is difficult to get to but worth the trouble. Your best bet is taking a direct flight with Satena from Bogotá and joining an organized tour when you’re there.

El Cocuy National Park

Natural Feature, Park
Map View
Trekkers heading to the El Cocuy National Park, Boyaca, Colombia
© Raquel Mogado / Alamy Stock Photo
El Cocuy National Park – part of the Colombian Andes’ eastern chain – closed for the year in 2016, as the government worked to resolve concerns around the impact of tourism on the indigenous U’Wa territories. Since reopening, a number of strict regulations have been introduced – including a ban on overnight stays within the park’s boundaries and a compulsion to visit with a local guide. While the logistical challenges are considerable, El Cocuy is a hiker’s paradise – with jagged peaks, glacial lakes and cloud forests comprising some of the country’s most spectacular scenery. From Bogotá, the journey here takes 10-12 hours by bus.
These recommendations were updated on October 5, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh. This article is an updated version of a story created by Joel Rabinowitz

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