We will not lie to you, in just a few weeks of travel to Colombia, it is impossible to do and to see everything in Colombia, to soak up the local life, and to find all the nuggets that punctuate the country.
However, you can still have a pretty exotic overview, and visit the most emblematic places that make Colombia famous. There is so much to discover that a whole year would not be enough. But, we will try to guide you to the best so that you don’t miss out on the best things to do during your stay. We have also included destinations that are off the beaten track, for an even more authentic experience. Let’s go!
Of course, we must go through the inevitable Bogota, Cartagena, and Medellin. Certainly, these cities aretourist places, but this is not for nothing.
In the capital, you will make your first encounter with Colombia discovering its rich and diverse culture. The Museum of Gold, Candelaria and statues of Botero are must see.
Cartagena is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its fortress and typical constructions from the Spanish conquest period. It also has the advantage of bordering the Caribbean Sea, a splendid place if any. Here again, tourists flock around the ramparts to admire the old town, the Getsemani district and the beaches.
Finally, a last important metropolis of Colombia is Medellin. Former headquarters of Pablo Escobar, the city is now quite safe and impresses with its modernity. In addition, its geographical location makes it a privileged place to access the coffee region and the Pacific coast.
Don’t miss out on these three cities that are true pillars of Colombian culture. This is absolutely one of the most important things to do in Colombia !
Explore the coffee region
Those who cannot spend a day without drinking a good coffee will be delighted to taste this typical brew that comes from Colombian lands. Between Medellin and Armenia, the relief and climate are ideal for coffee plants to develop at their best. That’s why, they are known around the world to connoisseurs.
As a visitor, we advise you to spend several days in the Cocora Valley, between the different villages. The most popular are Salento, Salamina, Aguadas, or Filandia. You will find pretty little buildings and haciendas that can be a base for exploring the area quietly.
In addition to all you learn about coffee, locals will show you the other assets of this region they are proud of. One can quote the natural park of Los Nevados and its emblematic wax palms.
Discover the pre-Columbian archaeological heritage
In addition to its recent history with the conquistadors, Colombia also has a cultural heritage that dates back much longer. And what is remarkable is the number of archaeological sites found on the territory, with paintings, sculptures, and funerary rooms very well preserved.
San Agustin and Tierradentro are the most emblematic sites of pre-Columbian culture. They are located in the South-West of the country, not far from the border with Ecuador. Ciudad Perdida, a city lost in the Caribbean jungle, is another well-known sacred site dating back several centuries.
If you want another idea of a more original excursion, go to San José del Guaviare, right in the center of the country. Very few tourists know this atypical destination, where you will discover many cave paintings millennia old. To access the cave, you have to walk around the mysterious blue mountain, which has not finished revealing its secrets.
Climb the volcanoes
Colombia has more than 15 volcanoes, all located in the Andes Cordillera. Some have erupted in the last 50 years. The most impressive is probably the Nevado del Ruiz, which rises to about 5,300 m above sea level. As a result, it’s covered with a layer of snow, from which escape threatening fumes occasionally. One can even make an ascent by car and on foot to see this splendor more closely. However, one important thing to do in Colomiba : take several days to acclimatize to different altitudes, because the mountain sickness can play tricks on you if you are not used to it.
Another volcano worth climbing in good weather is the Purace, right next to Popayan. In these volcanic areas of Colombia, you will find a very specific flora called paramo.
Go into the Amazon forest
If you’ve always dreamed of playing adventurers in a tropical forest with the creepers hanging from the trees, the sound of wild animals, the sweltering heat, the refreshing waterfalls, and the treasure at the end of the trail, make the trek to the Lost City.
Five days walking with a local guide in the forest of the Sierra Nevada National Park of Santa Marta. The path is long and difficult, but it hides a jewel: la Ciudad Perdida, a former sacred site of the Tayrona people. Your soul of Indiana Jones will be filled by this memorable trek!
Discover the Amazon forest
To continue on the theme of the lush vegetation of Colombia, this time heading south, for a hook by the Amazon river and its famous rainforest. In the village of Leticia you will go for boat trips or on foot to see pink dolphins, giant water lilies or brightly colored parrots.
In a lifetime, there are few opportunities to visit the Amazon rainforest, the famous lung of the Earth. So, enjoy while it’s still relatively preserved.
Trekking in the desert among the Wayuu people
In addition to the ocean, volcanoes, eternal snow, rainforest and sandy beaches, Colombia also has a desert. Climate diversity is really incredible in this country. This is why there are so many things to do in Colombia !
The Guajira is a very special place, where few tourists dare to venture. But for those who have time and enjoy authentic encounters in an incredible setting, this destination is perfect. If you can, take a local guide of the Wayuu people, and opt for 4 to 5 days of walking in the sand dunes, with nights under the stars.
It’s an extraordinary experience during which you will have the opportunity to discover the culture of a people that has survived with its millennial traditions. In Punta Gallinas, you will feel at the end of the world, between the blue of the sky and the ocher of the sand. It doesn’t happen so often in a life. You have to keep these precious moments in mind.
Traveling authentically in the Caribbean
You will pass by Cartagena and Santa Marta. But it’s not just these two cities that are worth a visit on the Caribbean coast! To get a little out of the flow of tourists, prefer small authentic villages like Necocli or Rincon del Mar.
You will be almost the only foreigner, and can therefore mingle more easily with the population. And nothing to spoil, the beaches are very beautiful and the water deliciously warm. In short, this is where you have to go to rest in peace, and fill up with seafood.
If you are more attracted by the beauty of the islands, Isla Mucura could become your little paradise. Located in the Coral Islands Natural Park of the Rosary and San Bernardo.
Feeling in Africa in Colombia
There are villages in Colombia where you feel you are on another continent. San Basilio de Palenque, near Cartagena, is a city classified as a masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage by UNESCO.
It is here that former slaves exploited by the conquistadors have acquired their freedom and settled to live. They brought with them their African traditions and mixed them with local customs to create over time a culture and language of their own.
This village is unlike any other in Colombia, except perhaps Lorica. Also in the suburbs of Cartagena, Lorica has Mediterranean accents. This heritage village of Colombia has flourished thanks to its river and the trade that has spawned. At the beginning of the 20th century, many Lebanese and Syrian migrants came to settle here. Since then, there are oriental restaurants and buildings at the crossroads between colonial Spanish and Arabic architecture. It is quite charming and exotic. In addition, very few tourists come here.
Admiring whales in the Pacific
Colombia has a long western coastline bordered by the Pacific Ocean. In addition to being beautiful and wild, it’s home to the migration of many humpback whales. So, you what you can do in Colombia, is to come and see them from June to October, when they stop around Central America to give birth to their young.
The best place to approach whales is the Utria National Nature Park, where you can also find killer whales and sea turtles. This natural site is preserved from mass tourism, and the inhabitants live in communion with nature. To see the whales, Nuqui, Isla Gorgona and El Valle are also very good spots. It is also an opportunity to surf, or to walk in the mangrove watching for exotic animals.
Climb the house of the Gods
To the East of Colombia, a few kilometers from the border with Venezuela, you will discover the imposing hills named Cerros de Mavecure, at the foot of the Inirida river.
This destination is still largely unknown to the general public, and that’s good. After an observation of the three granite mountains from the river, you can climb it. You will see an exceptional panorama of the surrounding nature. There are many indigenous tribes still living nearby, and this may be an opportunity for you to spend time with them, away from big cities and modern technologies.
Colombia’s biodiversity is one of the richest in the world, and it’s imperative that it continues. Fortunately, the authorities have realized the paramount importance of creating national parks and investing in the preservation of the environment.
But you also have your role to play as a traveler.
- You can decide to favor the visits of natural sites,
- and one thing to do in Colombia is to take local guides to show you the fauna and the flora of Colombia.
If you had only one place to explore, don’t miss the border area with Panama. In Los Katios Park, there are animal species from both South America and the North.
The village of Capurgana, a little further north, can serve as a base. You’ll hear screaming monkeys, see eagles and poisonous reptiles and sloths, and dive between corals, crabs and tropical fish. And to top it off, tourists are not a widespread species here. All the ingredients are thus gathered for a stay in the extravagant nature of Colombia.
It is not the activities that are lacking in this country so diverse and dynamic. The most complicated will be to make choices and to leave some destinations for lack of time. But this will also give you an excellent excuse to come back in a few years!