Colombia Travel Destinations
From the colonial cities of Cartagena and Santa Marta to the lush rainforests of the Amazon, there is something for every traveler. The lively cities offer a variety of activities such as shopping, dining, sightseeing, and experiencing vibrant nightlife.
For those who prefer nature over cityscapes, there are plenty of opportunities to explore the great outdoors with options like trekking in the Andes mountain range, deep sea fishing on the Caribbean coast, or visiting the beautiful islands of San Andrés and Providencia.
For adventure travelers, Colombia has world-class surfing spots, whitewater rafting on the Rio Grande de Magdalena river, and paragliding over the red clay hills near Medellín. Whatever your preference, Colombia promises to satisfy any traveler’s thirst for exploration.
The city center of Cali boasts a number of beautiful churches and plazas that make for perfect photo ops and sightseeing tours. Those interested in experiencing a traditional Colombian dance may want to visit one of the many nightclubs located in the Prado or Granada districts, where salsa music pulsates all night long. History buffs will find no shortage of places to explore in Cali as well; from the historic San Antonio Fortress to the old sugar mills, there’s something for everyone here.
We took an overnight bus from Bogotá to Cali stayed in a quaint hostel and spent the long weekend in what is deemed “the salsa capital of the world.” We didn’t do a lot of touristy things, but we did take a very informative free walking tour through the old part of the city. Cali isn’t particularly stunning, but the warm weather was a welcomed change from Bogotá’s chilly climate.
Cali is a dream come true. Its lush landscapes offer an array of activities to explore, from ziplining through the jungle canopy to whitewater rafting down the rushing rivers of the Cauca Valley. Additionally, Cali’s extensive hiking trails provide visitors with plenty of opportunities to take in the incredible views of one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges.
Cartagena and La Boquilla are two must-visit destinations in the stunning country of Colombia. The city of Cartagena lies on Colombia’s Caribbean coast and is renowned for its spectacular colonial architecture and captivating old town. A visit to Cartagena isn’t complete without admiring the beauty of El Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas Fort and walking through the cobblestone streets of the centuries-old walled city.
La Boquilla is located about 20 minutes by car from Cartagena’s historic area. We plopped into a canoe and glided through the mangroves. The Magdalena River Delta offers unparalleled opportunities for canoeing and kayaking. From tranquil mangrove forests to wildlife-filled estuaries, visitors will be enthralled with the sights and sounds of this unique destination.
Safety is paramount when canoeing in La Boquilla, as the area is home to some strong currents. Make sure you understand local regulations about paddling before embarking on your journey – it’s always best to book a guided tour if you’re feeling unsure about tackling the waterways alone. With the right knowledge and caution, visitors can rest assured that they will have an enjoyable and safe canoeing adventure in La Boquilla.
Guatavita and Zipaquirá
We visited Lake Guatavita, a quaint pueblo called Guatavita la Nueva, and the gorgeous Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá. The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá is an underground salt mine featuring the Stations of the Cross, which represent the life and death of Jesus Christ. We have been in various caves and mines in the United States, but this experience offered something different because there was a story behind each station and I learned more about Catholicism in Colombia.
This day trip tour also brought us to Lake Guatavita, an important religious site for the indigenous Muisca people. It’s also said to be the site that sparked the Legend of El Dorado and the European gold craze (a nicer term for pillaging, rape and murder). We also had time to meander through the colonial town of Guatavita la Nueva. I’m a sucker for white walls, terracotta roofs, and bougainvillea spilling down houses, so we found this place very charming.
Tip: Don’t go to the Salt Cathedral during a Colombian holiday, especially during Holy Week. Everyone and their mamas are there trying to peep the crosses. Check out this site that lists all the Colombian holidays, and boy are there a lot!
The Catedral de Sal (Salt Cathedral) is a striking underground Catholic church that was built over 500 years ago, using only salt blocks and carvings. Its impressive architecture, combined with stunning artwork, creates an unforgettable experience for visitors. After taking in the breathtaking views from the inside, visitors can also explore Zipaquirá’s bustling town square, which contains several shops and restaurants.
The short hike to get to Lake Guatavita was our favorite. It was not extremely difficult, but it got my heart pumping and the mountains surrounding the lake could be straight from a postcard.
Medellín was the first Colombian city we visited and was the perfect place to start our Colombian adventure. This time around, we took a day tour of Comuna 13 and Parque Arví. Comuna 13 was once the most dangerous neighborhood in Medellín, but it’s now a spot to admire creative graffiti art and learn how the area improved its image. It’s a rag to, well not riches story, but you’ll leave the neighborhood feeling optimistic about the future of Colombia.
Start your exploration of the city with a tour of the famous Parque Explora, home to over 3000 species of plants and animals, plus interactive science exhibits and interesting activities for both kids and adults alike. For art lovers, Medellín’s renowned Museum of Modern Art showcases works by some of the country’s most famous painters and sculptors. The atmospheric El Poblado district also offers plenty of interesting sights, from gourmet restaurants to vintage shops. In nearby Sanjeronimo, you’ll find the beautiful Botanical Garden, a lush botanical paradise full of exotic plants and wild birds.
Tip: The traditional Colombian dish called Bandeja Paisa originated in this part of the country. If you are a meat-eater, chow down on this protein-packed dish. If you prefer a meat-free snack, the arepas in Medellín (that come with huge slices of cheese on top) will make your mouth water.
We also took another day trip to Guatapé, a colorful town located about 2 hours from Medellín. The touristy town is splashed with color and sits along a reservoir. Overlooking that reservoir is a gigantic rock formation that goes by a few names in Spanish, but is commonly referred to as “El Peñol.” We climbed the 659 steps to the top of this beast and enjoyed the views of the emerald water below.
You can hike or take a boat around the lake and explore the area’s stunning environment which includes Moorish-style buildings, rustic villages, and gorgeous highlands lined with flowers. Visit La Piedra del Peñol for some of the most incredible views of the surrounding countryside and lake below.
Parque Chicaque is a magnificent nature reserve located in the Andean rainforest of Colombia. This spectacular park spans more than 4,000 hectares and is home to a wide variety of wildlife – from monkeys and sloths to toucans and macaws.
Located about an hour away from Bogotá, this national natural park sits in a cloud forest. When the clouds loom, it feels like you’re in a creepy horror film. It’s really cool but isn’t ideal for pictures. Sometimes the clouds clear and then you’re faced with stunning, rolling mountains and miles of hiking trails. In addition to hiking, visitors can also go horseback riding, zip-lining, and repelling.
Tip: Parque Chicaque is colder than even chilly Bogotá. Bring a heavy jacket and scarf. If you are staying in the park overnight, pack warm pajamas.
Our favorite part is sleeping in the lodge in the middle of the park. It’s simple but full of rustic charm. There’s a restaurant in the lodge as well as a wooden balcony that offers a few hammocks so you can drift off while peering over the treetops.
Villavicencio & La Calera
Located between the Andes Mountains in the east and the Llanos Plains in the west, Villavicencio and La Calera are two of the most beautiful natural destinations in Colombia. From crystal-clear rivers and cascading waterfalls to lush forests and verdant hillsides, these two areas offer a wide range of activities for travelers looking to explore the wonders of nature.
We took a 4-day Amazon tour and it was absolutely incredible. The tour started in Letica, a city in southern Colombia that sits along the Amazon River and shares a border with Brazil. We slept in an eco-lodge in a natural reserve in Peru. We also went canoeing, learned how to fish, spent an afternoon in an indigenous town, and searched for black caiman during an evening canoe ride.
The region also offers whitewater rafting trips down the Guayacán and Meta Rivers, as well as horseback riding tours along tranquil trails. Meanwhile, La Calera boasts a number of outdoor attractions – including hot springs, volcanic plateaus, and wildlife refuges – that will provide visitors with a unique and unforgettable adventure.
The Coffee Region of Colombia
Located in the Andes Mountains, this region is home to some of the world’s best coffee-growing regions and is known for its vibrant culture and stunning landscape views. The day tour was visiting small pueblos around the Coffee Region via Jungle Jeep.
The Jeep, known as a Willy in the region, had a removable roof, so we stood up and held on tight as the vehicle made its way over the sloping mountains dotted with coffee plants. I know I have talked about the views in other destinations above, but I still can’t get over the pretty, green mountains in the Coffee Region.
Speaking of views, Cocora Valley will also make your mouth gape open. We were lucky to have a blue sky the day we visited the valley, home to towering wax palm trees and a hiking trail.
The lush green hills are dotted with towering wax palms, some of which reach heights of nearly 200 feet, making them the tallest palms in the world. Cocora Valley offers plenty of hiking trails throughout its sweeping landscape. You can explore cloud forests with towering trees, ancient caves, and secret valleys with hidden hot springs. Depending on your level of experience, you can challenge yourself with some of the more difficult paths or take it slow and enjoy a leisurely stroll.