Colombia was named Lonely Planet’s second-best destination to visit in 2017, so there’s no denying that the South American country is firmly on the travel radar these days. However, there’s still so much of Colombia to discover, so here are the 15 best destinations to visit in Colombia in 2018—some off-the-beaten-track, some familiar, and some that are just about to explode.
Buenavista and Pijao
The best up-and-coming destinations to discover the world of Colombian coffee, Buenavista and Pijao are a pair of delightfully off-the-beaten-track towns in Quindio department, not far from the incredibly popular town of Salento. Buenavista is home to the excellent Panorama Café Hostel, and Pijao is the base for the WakeCup Experience Coffee Tour—perhaps the best of its kind in Colombia. Try and visit in July to enjoy the Yipao Jeep Parade.
This stunning Caribbean island is less than an hour by boat from Cartagena and is home to one of Colombia’s coolest hostels, the Paraíso Secreto (a hostel collective in a series of once-abandoned mansions belonging to Emerald barons). With beautiful mangroves, crystal-clear waters, and great seafood, it’s the best new island destination in Colombia.
San Agustín has developed an excellent infrastructure for travelers over the past couple of years and 2018 is the perfect time to visit to explore the amazing archaeological sites that the pretty little mountain town has to offer. Throw in excellent hostels, great coffee, and beautiful scenery, and San Agustín is a great place to spend a few days.
The Mavecure Hills
These ancient rocky hills in the deep jungles of eastern Colombia are barely known outside of the country, but are well worth the extra effort to visit. The jungles have hardly been touched by tourism and the views from the summit of the Mavecure Hills over the jungles at dawn are truly breathtaking.
Capurgana and Sapzurro
These two little Caribbean beach towns are the last settlements before the Panama border and are uniquely isolated and untouched by the rest of the country. With paradise beaches, brilliantly preserved coral reefs, top-notch seafood, and an amazing variety of nature, Capurgana and Sapzurro have plenty to offer adventurous travelers.
Colombia is the home of the world’s second largest carnival after Rio, the Barranquilla Carnival on the Caribbean coast. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience and an amazing party as well! In 2018 it takes place in February, so get booking those hotels now.
OK, so the Colombian capital is hardly an off-the-beaten-track, secret destination, but it is often criminally underrated by travelers, who often linger for just a weekend before moving on to the more popular Medellín. However, Bogotá, with its growing foodie scene, excellent live music, multiple cultural festivals, and closeby natural parks is worth dedicating a little more time to.
San José del Guaviare
This small city on the frontier of the Colombian plains and the Amazon rainforest is still very much off the tourist radar, but its reputation is growing—right now it’s in the sweet spot between undiscovered and developing, with good tour companies and hotels but very few crowds. And with ancient cave paintings, jungle lakes, amazing ecotourism and much more, San José is poised to become a must-visit spot.
Aside from a quick weekend in Villa de Leyva, Boyaca department—just to the north of Bogotá—very rarely gets explored by most travelers. But the region is just waiting to be explored in more depth, with a wealth of lovely little towns, the friendliest people in Colombia, great food, natural spas, artisanal products, and mountain trekking.
The vast Caribbean deserts at the most northerly tip of Colombia are home to some of the country’s most spectacular beaches, surreal scenery, and the best kite surfing in the country. There’s also the incredibly off-the-beaten-track Macuira National Park to discover as well. 2018 is definitely the year to discover the unique wonders of the Guajira.
Caquetá is one of the least-visited regions of Colombia, but its tourism industry is growing fast and there’s so much to experience that that’s no surprise—you can raft jungle rivers, go caving and rappelling along crystal-clear mountain streams, see wild monkeys, and discover the indigenous Amazon cultures of Colombia, all just a few hours from the regional capital of Florencia. And the futher-afield Araracuara Canyon might just be the ultimate off-the-beaten-track destination in Colombia for 2018.
Cali is the large Colombian city that many travelers choose to skip in their hurry to get up to Medellín and the coast, but the capital of salsa has its own unique charms to tempt travelers to come and visit. It’s a city that moves to its own unique rhythm, and with two of Colombia’s best festivals—the Feria de Cali and Petronio Alvarez Festival—there’s no bad time to pay a visit to Cali.
The Choco Pacific Coast
The wild jungles of Colombia’s Pacific Coast region are some of the most biodiverse on the planet, and are among the best destinations in Colombia for nature lovers. Between June and October you can watch humpback whales, in September sea turtles come to lay their eggs, and if you’re less of a nature freak then you can always go surfing instead.
Colombia’s vast eastern plains is a region unlike any other in Colombia—huge, seasonally flooded grasslands, home to cowboys, horses, and cattle, and some of Colombia’s coolest animals, like jaguars, anacondas, and giant anteaters. You can ride a horse through the plains, or take part in a Colombian wildlife safari.
Mocoa is the home of some of Colombia’s coolest waterfalls and swimming holes and is already one of the ‘hipster’ travel destinations of choice in Colombia. Many people come to sample ayahuasca, but there’s plenty more to do if that’s not your cup of tea: hikes through the jungle to the Fin del Mundo and Hornoyaco waterfalls, some of the best birdwatching in the country, and amazing jungle wildlife.