There’s thousands of reasons to visit Colombia, the land of 1000 rhythms and colors. In fact, it’s got so much to offer, it might seem more like a magical place than a real country. Where else can you can go from coconut cocktails on a Caribbean beach to cool mountain air and coffee in a matter of hours? Or from trekking the desert to being pulled into a dance party by joyful locals?
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Take a look at these sights, sounds and tastes and we’re sure your fingers will start tap, tap, tapping to a tropical beat, looking for the next flight to Colombia.
1. A night by the beach in Tayrona National Park
Long walks under a rainforest canopy? Heavenly beaches? Falling asleep listening to waves crash on the Caribbean coast? Check, check and check. Tayrona National Park is the place many dream of when they dream of Colombia, and it’s easy to see why. It’s only around an hour from Santa Marta too. It opens to visitors at 8am and closes at 5pm. Which means you have a tough decision to make. Stay in an eco lodge? Or on a hammock on the beach? And one night? Or two?
2. Massive street art murals in Bogota
Street art in Bogota is part of the city’s identity, and enough reason to visit the capital of Colombia. You can find artists using everything as a canvas, from side streets to the sides of tall buildings to entire neighborhoods. The most iconic example is the Los Puentes macro mural, which turns a 383-house barrio into a burst of color. We’d recommend finding a local tour to take you there – and to other cool spots like El Consuelo and Buena Vista – and to give the lowdown about Bogota street art culture. Also recommended: a graffiti tour through La Candelaria and Puente Aranda in Distrito Grafitti.
3. The red hot salsa scene of Cali
Every town in Colombia dances to its own tune. Cali’s happens to be a lightning-quick “ta-ta-tak, ta-ta-tak” salsa rhythm. In fact, it’s so famous for it that it’s known as the world capital of salsa. To be wowed by the masters (or wow people with your moves) head to Zaperoco in Juanchito. To get in the groove of Cali salsa, go to Tin Tin Deo, which offers beginners’ classes around 8pm before the main event.
4. Bandeja Paisa for breakfast near Medellín
In the land of the Andes and Sierra Nevadas, it makes sense that the national dish is a mountain of rice, chorizo sausage, chicharron, pulled beef, fried egg, avocado, beans and plantains. An arepa too. In short, all the yum (and energy) you’ll need to fuel your next adventure. For example, the hills and lake landscapes of Guatapé . We’ve heard there’s this magical place called Piedra del Penol…
5. The view from Piedra del Peñol (a.k.a “The Rock”)
Don’t let the 740 step climb daunt you. The sight of the lake and the twisting, turning coastline from 650 feet above is worth it. Later, you can admire the rock from afar on a calm boat tour across the lake. If you came here for adventure and not for chill, Guatapé also offers some serious water sports action. Finally, stroll along among the nearby town whose houses are so bright and colorful you’ll think you’re in a giant candy store.
All of that, just a 2 hour drive from Medellín. Amazing, isn’t it?
6. Caño Cristales, the rainbow river of La Macarena National Park
Is this the most beautiful river in the world? Many think so, and it’s hard to argue with them. Caño Cristales is best known for its reds – courtesy of flowering algae – but it’s also easy to spot yellows, pinks and greens too. Add the river’s many waterfalls and rock pools, and you get one big living work of art. Getting here’s a bit of a journey, but the locals are welcoming, and happy to show off the beautiful place they call home. An important note – visit between July and October for maximum color. And make sure you don’t go in the first quarter of the year – nature won’t be in bloom yet, so you won’t find the colorful landscape you came for.
7. A trek to the lost city of Ciudad Perdida
Get your best hiking shoes, cause we’re about to discover a gem, and one of the best reasons to visit Colombia. The 4-day, 27 mile Lost City trail takes you through lush rainforests, up hills and across rivers. It will also show you glimpses of a 1200 year-old civilization – the crown jewel being the Lost City itself and the 1350 step stone stairway the Tairona people built to reach it. Go with a tour – ideally one with close ties to the local communities – and keep in mind that this is a real off-road experience.
8. The polycolor palenqueras of Cartagena’s Walled City
Bright smiles, bright dresses and baskets full of bright fruit balanced on the head. That’s a palenquera in a snapshot. But while this dance of colors alone would be enough to make them Colombia’s national icon, their story is even more impressive. They’re descendants of the first free town of Colombia, Palenque, and its entrepeneurial women who turned selling mangos, pineapples and more in nearby Cartagena into a thriving business. So when you take a photo with one of these women in the colorful streets of the Walled City, remember what they represent. Freedom.
9. Paragliding above the peaks of San Gil, Santander
Extreme sports is one of the mains reasons to visit Colombia, and the country has no shortage of breath-taking spots for paragliding. For example, it’s only half an hour from Medellín to San Felix, where you can get a bird’s eye view of the city. But the ultimate champion is San Gil in the Santander region. Why? Because the grand green ridges of the epic Chicamocha Canyon are simply unbeatable. Once you’ve got over your speechlessness, you can go to the tiny but oh-so-pretty town of Barichara and lose your speech all over again.
10. The underground salt cathedral near Bogota
Want an underground tip? Drive one hour out of Bogota to see a church unlike any other you’re ever going to see. Built in an excavated salt mine, Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá combines rough stone halls with carefully crafted religious icons. Together with its purple lighting, it feels like you’re in a sci-fi movie. It’s also ideal if you’re looking for some deep relaxation, thanks to the Salt Cathedral’s very own spa 2600 feet below the surface – and its salt-based wellness products.
11. Tatacoa – a desert in the middle of an oasis
OK, full disclosure. Tatacoa isn’t a desert. It’s something even more interesting: a dry tropical forest. Highlights are the winding red rock formations of the Cuzco region, swimming in a pool in the middle of the desert at the Valley of Desires and stargazing under wide open skies. There’s all sorts of accomodation, from backpacker hostels to boutique hotels. How to get there, you ask? Take a 6 hour drive from Bogota (or a 1 hour flight) to Neiva, then take a bus to Villavieja.
12. Picturesque views in coffee heaven at Cocora Valley
Welcome to the heartland of world-famous Colombian coffee, also known as the coffee triangle. Of its three key regions (hence the triangle), Salento is the major one. It’s also where you can go on a day trip to the steep hills and tall wax palms of Cocora Valley. So go on a tour of a coffee farm. Let the black magic of a fresh brew from fresh Colombian beans send your senses buzzing. Then use all of that energy to conquer the hike to the valley.
13. The powdered sugar beaches of San Andrés Island
In the middle of the Caribbean, San Andres Island is sea, sun and scuba diving heaven. Especially if you take the 10 minute boat to tiny Johhny Cay Island. But it’s not just bucket-list worthy beaches. The island’s Caribbean ingredients make for a festival of flavors. Crab empanadas and banana cake are must-eats. If you’re up for something super traditional, so is rondón – a tropical mix of fish, snail, cassava, yam, pork tail, plantain and dumplings, cooked in coconut milk.
The cheapest flights tend to be found from Cartagena (which, BTW, should already be on your Colombia itinerary).
14. Birds of a thousand feathers in the Amazon
With over 1889 different species, Colombia is the world leader when it comes to avian variety. More than half of them call the vast Amazon region home. That includes parakeets and parrots in all imaginable color combinations, macaws and more. In short, lots of reasons for bird lovers to visit Colombia. Amacayacu National Park and Puerto Nariño are hot spots, but venture deeper into Chiribiquete National Park and you can find majestic table mountains as well as tiny emerald hummingbirds.
15. The crazy Carnival of Barranquilla
The Carnival of Barranquila is the 2nd biggest in the world, behind only the famous Rio Carnival. For a four day stretch in February, the city is taken over by people wearing tiger masks, bright feathers, makeup so fabulous it would make Jonathan from Queer Eye blush, and all sorts of colorful costumes. The next one will be held between 22-25 February 2020. So join in and let the cumbia and mapalé rhythms put your feet in motion and sway your hips. And don’t miss the Battle of the Flowers parade.
Is it safe to travel in Colombia?
When’s the best time to go?
Joking aside, the weather’s amazing year-round in Colombia thanks to being so near to the Equator. However, you can also find gentle cool temperatures in the hills. Medellín, in particular, is known as “the land of eternal spring”.
Can’t decide on a destination? Let your taste in music tell you where to go for your ideal Colombian holiday.