The Solo Traveler’s Guide to Colombia

Pueblito Paisa is a replica historic town at the top of Nutibara Hill, Medellín
Pueblito Paisa is a replica historic town at the top of Nutibara Hill, Medellín | © Gökhan Bozkaya / Alamy Stock Photo
Carrie Back

From the Andes to the Amazon, Colombia has earned a spot on almost every traveler’s bucket list, with its rich indigenous history and Afro-Caribbean roots. Visitors are drawn by its diverse landscapes, from snow-capped mountains to steamy rainforests and sun-drenched shorelines. For solo travelers Colombia is just the ticket. Its main cities – Bogotá, Cali, Cartagena and Medellín – are colorful and lively, with their own distinct nightlife and upbeat hostels, so you’re bound to meet like-minded solo adventurers.

What’s the vibe?

If Colombia once had an unsavory reputation, today it’s a solo traveler’s dream: a haven among digital nomads. You’ll be in your element exploring its unparalleled food scene and the raw beauty of its great outdoors.

A Colombia trip overview for solo travelers

Hike through the wax palms of the Cocora Valley

Sun-seekers flock to Colombia’s white-sand Caribbean Coast beaches and nature lovers adore its national parks. The more adventurous get stuck into out-there pursuits, from hiking to surfing and sandboarding. For caffeine addicts, there’s the beautifully landscaped region known as the Coffee Triangle. Throw in the remote Pacific Coast, nightlife-centric cities such as Medellín and Bogotá, and the gateway to the steamy Amazon in the south – what’s not to love for solo travelers?

Accommodation in Colombia

Colombia has a modern and thriving hostel scene, with some of the best you’ll find anywhere in South America. From surf camps and rustic eco-stays on the coasts, to tech-savvy bases aimed at remote workers, all tastes are catered for. Expect, too, unique places in jungle canopies and floating homes in the Caribbean Sea. Many offer some form of daily activity or event, whether it be epic pool parties, cooking lessons or salsa classes to introduce you to Colombian culture – and to your dorm mates.

What to see and do in Colombia as a solo traveler

You could spend years here and not see everything the country has to offer. However brief your visit, you should fit in these three must-dos.

Trek to Ciudad Perdida – the Lost City

Ciudad Perdida is thought to be older than Machu Picchu

Departing from Santa Marta, as is the norm, this multi-day guided hike is, without doubt, for the fit and agile. The circa-40km (25mi) hike takes you through dense jungles and the challenging terrain of the Sierra Mountains. After reaching the archaeological terraced wonder, continue the 1,200 or so steps to the pre-Columbian settlement, which will leave you in awe. Discovered in the 1970s, it’s a fairly recently revealed tourist attraction and much about its history remains a mystery to this day.

Explore Medellín and rainbow-colored Guatapé

Enjoy the Catedral Metropolitana de Medellín in solitude

When visiting the Antioquia region of Colombia, add the village of Guatapé to your itinerary. Just a short bus ride from Medellín, this tiny village is known for its brightly-colored buildings, turquoise lake and Instagram-tastic views from the steep El Peñón rock.

Take a walking tour of Medellín on Culture Trip’s Discover the Colombian Andes small-group adventure. This 8-day trip, led by a Local Insider, takes you through the vibrant cities, coffee culture and spectacular Andes scenery of Colombia.

Unwind on the beaches of the Caribbean Coast

The desert meets the sea at Punta Gallinas

It would be a crime to visit Colombia without experiencing its often-untouched Caribbean shores. With year-round sunny weather, there’s simply no bad time to head to the sleepy beach town of Palomino. Popular among surfers, yogis and backpackers, Palomino is the perfect spot for solo travelers desperate to disconnect and work on just one thing: their suntan. After something more active? Go tubing on the river, or get back to nature in the gorgeous Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, nearby.

Eating and drinking in Colombia

Bandeja paisa makes a filling breakfast

Arepas (cornmeal patties), arepas de queso (with cheese), and arepas con chocolate caliente (served with hot chocolate) … If there’s one Colombian food the country is known for, it is surely the arepa – variations of this staple are found throughout the country. For a hearty dish, try bandeja paisa: “platter of the Paisa region”. It usually ropes in red beans and rice, fried plantains, chorizo or ground beef, avocado, corn, an arepa and a fried egg. Craving something sweet? Look for the nearest street vendor selling buñuelos (semi-sweet fritters) or obleas (wafers, usually served with caramel-like arequipe). Culture Trip can tell you more about traditional foods you have to try in Colombia.

Getting around Colombia as a solo traveler

Travel in style on a Chiva bus

Domestic airlines serve most major cities, but local buses are the most affordable transport. Medellín is home to an ultra-efficient Metro and Metrocable transportation system. In Bogotá, it’s common to take a taxi, bus or bike. You’ll find moto-taxis and colectivos (aka shared van transport) in rural settings. If given the opportunity, ride on the colorful Chiva buses or vintage jeeps found in the coffee region. And do confirm the price with the taxi driver before setting off to your final destination.

Stay safe, stay happy in Colombia

Remain alert to scams targeting tourists. With vendors, it’s best to refuse something offered for free – say, a massage or food. It’s always too good to be true and chances are, you’ll be pressured relentlessly into buying it. Petty theft occurs – you might want to leave valuables at the hotel. Last, but not least, always ask for the price of an item upfront.

Cultural need-to-knows

It’s a good rule of thumb to be patient and flexible in Colombia on matters of time. Generally speaking, punctuality is relaxed, so it’s best to go into vacation mode on arrival. Always make a point of focusing on the positive aspects of Colombian culture, instead of diving head-first into sensitive topics (ie, the country’s turbulent recent past). Expect people to be friendly and curious to know where you’re from – and expect your plates to be piled high, thanks to innate Colombian generosity.

Prefer to explore Colombia with like-minded travellers? Join our eight-day adventure From Bogota to Medellín: Traverse the Colombian Andes, led by a Local Insider. It includes exploring cosmopolitan Bogotá, tasting the world’s finest coffee in the Zona Cafetera, hiking in the picturesque Cocora Valley and exploring a Medellín neighborhood once influenced by Pablo Escobar.

This is an updated rewrite of an article originally by Chris Bell.

Culture Trip Summer Sale

Save up to $1,395 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article