Home to a vibrant culture and breathtaking landscapes, discover the best places to visit in Colombia. Here you will find out what to do in your Colombia vacation for an unforgettable trip to South America.
**Guest post by Anna from Expert World Travel
Colombia seems to be a hot destination right now, and after hearing so many people around us rave about it, we decided to spend a month there in February.
Deciding where to go and what to see is always a challenge, especially in a country like this. It is quite a large place with a wide variety of things to see. From historic cities and towns in the jungle to mountains and beaches. Somehow, Colombia seems to almost have it all.
In this post I wanted to highlight some of the best things we saw, along with a few others we did not, but would have if only we had more time. So, without further ado, here are what I consider to be the best things to see and do in Colombia!
The Best Places To Visit In Colombia
Find out what are the top Colombia tourist places, the places to visit in Medellin, the things to do in Bogota and how to visit many other beautiful places, beaches and natural parks and treks in the wild.
Medellin, One of the Best Cities in Colombia
Hosting some of the famous Colombian tourist attractions, Medellin is a must-see on your first trip. Here are some of the places to visit and things to do.
Free Walking Tour, one of the top things to do in Medellin
The free walking tour is famous in Medellin for a reason. You get an in-depth, locally-guided, fun tour with many of Medellin tourist attractions – all for free! Ok, it’s technically free, but actually, their guides live off tips, so I recommend giving them a good tip if you enjoyed it. And in case you don’t know how much is a good tip, they will give you a quick suggestion.
Each tour is of course quite unique, but in general, they cover all the main sites in town, as well as providing a little local context and history. Our guide was an ex-US resident who had been removed from there, and had many interesting stories to tell from his youth spent in Colombia. Let’s just say it was not a safe place to be back then!
Comuna 13, one of the places to visit in Medellin
Colombia has a reputation worldwide as a dangerous place, and some of the neighbourhoods in Medellin certainly used to be like that too. One of the more famous ones is an out of the way area, that is still relatively poor called Comuna 13.
Interestingly, a whole bunch of escalators have been built to help the locals get up into the far reaches of this area. Which would have been painful for many before they were there. It also helps all the tourists get up there too. You can take a guided tour, or do it on your own because just walking around and soaking up the views, atmosphere and graffiti-filled walls are reason enough to go there.
TIP: Book a guided tour to soak in the atmosphere of Comuna 13, experience the metro cable, view the local graffiti and snack on local delicacies.
Metrocable to Arvi Park
The installation of the Metrocable in Medellin was another life-saving change for many. It allows people way out of town, high up in the poorer areas to access the city. This means they can more easily commute into the centre and get jobs that were impossible to reach before.
It is also a great opportunity to get an overview of how these people live and to take a day trip to one of Medellin’s hidden gems – Arvi Park. As the cable car rides high over the park, for what seems like hours, you get a great overview of this semi-wilderness. You can just take the cable car, or you can get off at the end and explore the park itself.
Botero Artwork, some of the top Medellin sights
Botero is perhaps one of Medellin’s most famous and loved sons. His artwork can be seen all around the world, and luckily for locals, all over Medellin too. The best place to experience his sculptures en mass is to head to Botero Plaza.
Here there are 23 of his chubby bronze sculptures, right next to another eye-opening building that was never properly finished – the Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture.
You can also see some other Botero artwork in the National Museum of Colombia if you have a little more time to spare while in Medellin.
TIP: Book a tour around Medellin to explore its city centre, see Botero’s sculptures and enjoy a beautiful view from the Metro Cable Car.
Bogota, one of the unmissable places to visit in Colombia
One of the places to go in Colombia is certainly its capital. A vibrant and modern city, here are some of the things to do in Bogota if you can stay at least 48 hours.
Bicycle Tour, one of the best things to do in Bogota
Probably the number one thing you should do when in Bogota is the Bogota Bike Tour. It’s run by a wacky former journalist and has become a bit of a “must do” for most visitors here.
This is a great way to see what can be quite a big city. Starting in Candelaria, it not only covers many of the highlights but offers some unique experiences as well. You get taken into one of the local markets and experience more strange fruits than I have ever seen. They also take you for a game of Tejo, a cross between beer pong, bowling and explosives. And, you also get to see parts of the city you would never visit on your own.
TIP: Book a bicycle tour of Bogota to explore more of this big city and get in touch with the locals.
Gold Museum, important landmark in Bogota
If you know a little about South American history you will know that this continent was full of gold when the Spaniards arrived. And if you want to see what some of the artefacts looked like – this is the place in South America to do it. They have over fifty thousand pieces, so many are on display it is hard to take it all in.
If you don’t leave this place wanting a little more gold in your life, I am not sure anything will. The Gold Museum is one of the best places to visit in Bogota.
Head up Monserrate
Towering over Bogota are lush hills that make expanding the city here a bit of a challenge. And if you want to get some of the best views in the city, Monserrate, is the place to do it. You can take the cable car up, or if you want more of a challenge, you can hike up.
Just be aware that some muggings have happened on these paths in the past, so be sure to read up on the latest information before heading out. The safest times to hike up, from what I heard from locals is not early or late. However, midday is also some of the hottest, so it’s a bit of a catch 22!
TIP: Book a tour to Monserrate with a local to better enjoy the trip and explore the place.
Salt Cathedral at Zipaquirá
We didn’t get a chance to head out to the Salt Cathedral, but it is certainly an impressive place to visit from what I have heard. It consists of 14 individual chapels, nearly 200m underground, all carved out of salt deposits. If you take the bike tour, you will actually pass the train station where your trip will start.
TIP: Book a day trip to explore the beautiful Zipaquira town and its Salt Cathedral and Mine.
Cartagena, one of the top places to visit in Colombia
Among the other Colombia landmarks, Cartagena is one of those places not to miss. Colonial-style houses, flower-filled balconies and a native Indian vibe, this is one of the best places to travel in Colombia to delve into the country’s intimate soul.
Take a Walking Tour in Cartagena
The old town itself is one of the highlights of Cartagena, so taking a walking tour on your first day here is a great way to explore. Free Walking Tours also offers a great way to do this, like in Medellin. Guided by a local, your tour will touch all the highlights as well as explaining the history and adding some local flair.
Party Like It’s 1999
I remember where I spent New Year’s Eve in 1999, and it’s certainly something I will never forget. But that is a story for another time. If you want a little bit of unforgettable party action while in Colombia, Cartagena is the place to find it. There are a couple of options that people just don’t stop talking about. One is the party that happens at Media Luna and the other is the crazy parties on the Chiva Bus. Do a little bit of research before deciding which you prefer.
A Trip To Playa Blanca
If you want to get a little beach time while in Cartagena, there is no better place to do it than Playa Blanca. With its stunning turquoise waters and golden sand, you will be hard pressed to find anything more picturesque, apart from perhaps Tyrona. But that is a little further away.
You can reach Playa Blanca, which is actually on Isla Baru, in less than an hour, but I recommend making a day trip out of it to really enjoy the sun and have a cocktail, or two!
TIP: Book a day trip to Playa Blanca to make the most of your trip, enjoy the pristine beach and a local lunch.
Salento, where to visit in Colombia for coffee lovers
Coffee lovers and sports and outdoors fans can’t miss the Salento region.
Salento is right in the heart of Colombia’s premiere coffee region (Zona Cafetera). This country is in prime coffee growing territory with high mountains, a lush climate, plenty of water and a history of excellent coffee exports. It is only recently that the locals have taken to coffee themselves, and you can now find awesome coffee shops all over the country – and I can tell you, as a Cafe Latte lover, I was certainly over the moon.
Salento is a great place to sample the coffee, and to see how it is grown, roasted and packed. There are a whole bunch of coffee plantations within a short ride of the town, but we chose to go to one of the most popular – Finca El Ocaso. There are two tours you can do there, one including coffee tasting, and one without. We chose the longer one, and got not only an in-depth tour but got to sample some of their best coffees as well.
It’s a fascinating experience to see how and perhaps where my daily brew comes from, and I came home with 5 bags of the stuff just to make sure I did not forget.
Hike The Valle de Cocora
Whether you are fit or not, there is something for everyone in the nearby Valle de Cocora. One of the beautiful places in Colombia, this is a spectacular valley in the midst of a farming region that is filled with insanely tall wax palm trees. Just seeing the trees, both up close and from a distance, is a sight to behold. They tower over everything else in their vicinity.
You can visit this area a number of ways. From a short walk straight up to the trees themselves to a longer loop that we took, which took about half a day – depending on how fast you walk, or how often you stop. You can get here by local Jeep, or drive here yourself (if you have a car) and the earlier the better. Because there are certainly crowds here by midday.
Horse Riding & Mountain Biking
If you are in the Valle de Cocora you will find it hard to miss all the horses. There are tour operators all over the place. It’s another great way to experience the valley, on either a short or longer tour.
Likewise, there are plenty of mountain biking options in Salento, including a long one out to another wax palm filled area, albeit a lot quieter than the Vallee de Cocora. So, if you fancy a mountain bike day out, and want to see the palms, why not combine the two? Just ask at the local mountain bike store and they will set it up for you!
If you are still wondering where to go in Colombia, Minca is a lovely laid-back village to relax and discover some of the country’s natural beauties.
Minca is not the peaceful village it used to be, but it is still quite a relaxing place to get away from the heat of the Caribbean coast. It is high up amongst the jungle and perhaps not surprisingly filled with water – which leads to waterfalls.
One of the most popular to visit is the Marinka Falls on the road leading out of town. You can walk there yourself in about an hour, or take a motorbike, which most do, to the entrance. Just be aware that there is still another short and steep walk up once you arrive, and even more motorbikers there to take your money. The falls are not free, but you have a nice coffee shop there, with some fun hanging nets to relax in. Just don’t go on the weekend, as it’s packed with locals.
Birding is another popular activity in this area, and we decided to partake. We hired a local guide who showed us about 50 different birds in just a couple of hours, all along the road we had walked to the falls. The only difference was, he knew what to look for and where to look. From stunning Toucans to woodpeckers, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
You can also take tours higher up in the jungle and see parrots, and other more colourful birds.
Another fun tour to do in Minca is to visit the chocolate farm called Candelaria. You can walk up here, if it’s not too hot (because again, it’s steep) or take a motorbike up. We walked back down.
The tour is quite short but includes all you need to know about chocolate, from tree to cacao. And it includes a few samples as well as a free chocolate face mask at the end.
Other options for outdoor lovers
Here are more places to include in your Colombia travel itinerary, more activities and natural wonders to visit.
We spent 6 days on Providencia Island (also known as Isla de Providencia), one of the best Colombia attractions. Located in the Caribbean, not far from Nicaragua, it seems to be the island the world forgot. Beautiful Colombia beaches. Lush mountains. Friendly locals. Great seafood. And not many tourists. It’s just a bit of a challenge to get there. If you want to learn more about it, check out my extensive guide to Providencia Island, it has almost everything you need to know.
Lost City Trek
We ran out of time while we were in Minca, but one of the other most popular things to do in the mountains around there is a multi-day trek to the Lost City, which is hidden deep in the jungle. Just be prepared for a long hike, which is hot and sweaty most of the way.
Tayrona National Park
Tayrona is another iconic spot on the Caribbean coast, just down from Minca. Unfortunately for us, it is closed every year for a month of rehabilitation (from what we can tell, it’s usually all of February). The beaches and forest here are stunning, and it’s certainly worth a visit. Just don’t come in February as we did!
Caño Cristales – Coloured River
Another place which caught my attention while researching our trip to Colombia was the Caño Cristales. It’s a stunning series of pools and streams that run red.
The photos say it all, but it’s a bit of a challenge to get to. It’s quite far south, and from what I could see, it was the only reason to head in that direction. If you do head south, make sure you don’t miss it as it’s one of the most beautiful places to visit in Colombia.
Colombia Tourism Safety
I just thought I would add a little note about safety in Colombia because it is something that is on everyone’s mind. Or, even if you are not concerned about it, your parents and friends might be!
Colombia, in general, is a very friendly and safe place to be. In most towns, you can go just about anywhere both day or night. In cities, however, it pays to ask your hotel or hostel where it is safe to go in – especially at night. Many touristy and rich areas are fine, but there are also many that are not great places to be stuck after dark. The situation can also change quite a lot, so keep yourself up to date.
In terms of getting to and from the airport, or moving around in cities, we found that using Uber was the best way to go. Taxis were unreliable, often “negotiating” the price, even after you had already agreed on it, or trying to make the journey longer than it need be. Uber, on the other hand, was reliable, cheaper, and often had better drivers. You also have a record of who drove you, what their license was, in the rare case there is a problem. Technically Uber is actually not allowed in Colombia, so just be aware that someone will always need to sit next to the driver to give the appearance of normalcy.
When outside of big cities though, taxis and local buses are fine and often the best way to get around.
Overall though, we had absolutely no issues in Colombia, nor did we ever feel unsafe – even in the big cities at night.
It’s a great place to visit, with so much to do, your only concern is figuring out what not to see!
Author Bio: Anna is the travel blogger behind Expert World Travel that she updates with her husband Roger about their travels their current home in Switzerland.
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