Colombia is a country with breathtaking terrain encompassing grassland, desert, mountains, and lakes. The beauty of this South American gem lies with its charming people and diverse landscape. Naturally, there are lots of things to do in Colombia. From nature escapes to adventurous undertakings, the country provides ample excitement for people of any age.
For the Adventurous and Spontaneous:
Diving Safari in Parque Tayrona, Magdalena
After having spent New Year’s Eve in Cartagena, (which was AWESOME!) we were craving for a serene beach that didn’t have hawkers selling umbrellas, drinks or a “massaaaaaaaaage” on a constant basis.
Luckily, Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona was close by. This national park is known for its beautiful beaches and a laid-back backpacker vibe. Most people go there for a hike into the jungle for 3-5 days. However, since I am crazy afraid of spiders, hiking in a “jungle” was not for us.
Much to our delight, Parque Tayrona is also known for its rich marine life and potential diving sites. Most of the diving takes place in Taganga – about four hours from Cartagena with a bus. We decided to take a diving trip with Calypso Divers, which included two-night dives and three days of diving safari in Tayrona.
This 1M Colombian peso (US 340) expedition includes transportation, accommodation, dive instructors, a cook, and all of the equipment and food for three days. They have a simple, secluded camp on one of the beaches in Parque Tayrona. And by camp, I mean: hammocks under a rooftop and a toilet with a bucket.
This ain’t a trip for luxury traveler s– there is no running water, no electricity, and no cell phone reception. But there is nature – and adventure. And really cool conversations over a beach bonfire with the other divemates. It’s the serenity we were searching for and that we found at Tayrona!
Trek Through the Tallest Palms in the World at Cocora Valley, Quindio
The Cocora Valley has the tallest palm trees in the world, with some reaching upwards of 60m. Spread across the green fields, these wax palms stand proudly in the daylight. There are many trek routes to choose from in Cocora. As such, the walk can be made as easy as a few hours of casual hiking, or as difficult as hours of mountain climbing.
During my visit to this fascinating valley, we were lost amongst miles and miles of trees and greenery. From small wooden logs acting as bridges to piles of boulders and dozens of muddy roads, the 7 hours we spent wandering through Cocora was beyond memorable.
More than the journey itself, it was the wildlife within these mountains that intrigued me. Pumas and tamarins, crocodiles and Jaguars all lark within the shadows of this natural wonderland. You never know what you might come across.
Snack on ‘Fat-Bottomed Ants’ in Barichara, Santander
An hour away from San Gil, rests Barichara, a peaceful town with a presence that transcends mere nostalgia-a place where I’ve never been to before, yet felt at home the second I arrive. The quiet colonial village sits on top of a hill, with a backdrop of winding country roads and lush farmlands. The streets are paved with clay-colored stones. Colonial houses sit evenly along the pavement, riding along the ups and downs of the hilly village. Afar, fields of green extend towards the sky, completing a picturesque backdrop that contrasts the red and whites of Barichara’s township.
Aside from its beautiful landscape, Barichara is also famous for its ‘Giant Fat-Bottomed Ants.’ This delicacy consists of ants that are a centimeter in length and have a sizable bottom. The bugs are salted, roasted, and snacked on like peanuts in the region. Apparently full of protein, they have become a common treat for locals.
So the next time you visit Barichara, why not sit by the mountains, have a coffee, and snack on some ants like a local?
Paraglide in Chicamocha Canyon, Santander
As Colombia’s ‘Adventure Capital,’ San Gil has lots of excitement to offer. From hiking to caving to white-water rafting, the range of activities is only limited by the lack of imagination.
Chicamocha Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world. Paragliding is a popular pursuit taken on by brave souls at the Canyon. Gliding through the clouds and in-between the mountain tops, the view is only amplified by the scenery below. With many lakes, ample greenery, and miles and miles of hilly grounds, the whole experience is simply breathtaking.
I’d recommend anyone to leave their fear at home and take on an adventure of a lifetime!
For the Curious and Active:
More than extreme sports and fascinating diets, Colombia has many towns with beautiful streets and enchanting history. For those who like to take their time and wander aimlessly, Colombia is the place for you.
Grasp the history of Comuna 13, Medellin, Antioquia
At one point in history, Comuna 13 was known as the most dangerous neighborhood in Colombia. That is a hefty statement, especially when Colombia was at the time, the most notorious country in the world.
However, recent years has seen this vibrant country become a prominent tourist destination. Alongside Colombia, Comuna 13 underwent significant transformation. The once crime-ridden neighborhood became a distinguished space that embodies the resilience of its people. Although many circumstances, such as the controversial Operation Orión, became a part of the comuna’s troubled history, its transformation signifies a space with an inherent strength like no other.
It is definitely worth embarking on a guided tour through this area and attempt to understand the multifaceted history that Colombia has to offer.
Relish the Enchanting Colors of Guatapé, Antioquia
Guatapé is often noted as the “most colorful town in Colombia.” Its bright colors and charming streets often attract hundreds of visitors on a continuous basis. Each house is painted with a different, vibrant color that sits proudly against the vast, empty sky. Together, these dwellings form a town space that radiates exuberant vitality.
A bus from Terminal del Norte Medellin to Guatapé is around 2 hours and 14,000 pesos away.
Instead of concentrating solely on Guatapé’, a day visit should be divided between this colorful township and the nearby La Piedra. La Piedra del Peñol is one of the largest free-standing rocks in the world. With an elevation of 2,135m and 650 climbing steps, reaching the summit is a sweat-inducing task. However, the view from above is well worth the hike.
Combined with La Piedra, Guatapé’s colors will brighten anyone’s day!
Enjoy the Cityscape from Cerro de Monserrate, Bogota
Vibrant, cosmopolitan and colonial all at once: it’s hard to put Bogota, Colombia’s capital, into just one category.
Whether you want to explore history, art, food or local customs, Bogota has it all in the form of museums, restaurants, galleries and warm, friendly locals. However, and as with any bustling city, it can sometimes become a bit too overwhelming: traffic, noise and busy commuters may start to opaque your visit to Bogota after a couple of days.
But the good news is that there is a special place to escape it all. Dominating the skyline of the capital, Cerro de Monserrate rises 10,341 ft (3,152 meters) above sea level over Bogota’s capital. This monumental hill, considered to be sacred in pre-Columbian times, is a popular pilgrim destination (there is a church on the top) as well as a major tourist attraction. The reason? Unparalleled views of downtown, all in a calm, lush, and green setting where you can give yourself a respite from it all. There are 3 ways to get to the top: on foot (free, though quite a hard hike), cable car (open every day, 20,000 COP for a return journey, cheaper on Sundays) and funicular railway (open Tuesday-Sunday, same prices as cable car). Whichever way you choose to get there, I assure you it will be worth it once you set your eyes on the magnificent views of this splendid capital!
Pilar and her partner Jorge are obsessed with travel, writing, taking pictures and drinking mate, their country’s signature drink. In 2015, they left home on a one-way ticket to Europe, where they visited 12 countries, dozens of cities and created countless memories. Along the way, they created el antitour, a travel website to inspire Spanish-speaking readers to travel the world. 3 years later, they are on their way back home to Argentina in their renovated home on wheels with an epic journey across the American continent. You can follow Pilar and Jorge’s travels on their Instagram and Facebook.
South from Cartagena’s Walled City, there is Getsemani, the younger sister that must not be missed. Not just a more budget-friendly option, Getsemani features a bohemian charm and artistic appearance. Only a walk through Getsemani streets will make you feel like you are in an outside art museum.
On top of colorful colonial buildings and tropical flowers, Getsemani is abundant with street art. I’m not talking about small graffitis here and there. You will see true outdoor mural paintings, entire buildings covered in artistic expressions. They are the true symbol of this neighborhood, the reason more and more tourists wander through the streets every day.
Close enough to the old town, more relaxed and with less touristic bustle, Getsemani is the favorite location for young tourists. It is a place that never sleeps, a place where you will always find something to do. Just walk around Plaza Trinidad, where people gather in the evening after the day has cooled off. Food carts with tasty local options, not necessarily on the healthy side, line up around the square. The whole atmosphere is completed by local dance performers, plus cocktail bars with “all you can drink” offers you can’t resist!”
Bike in the Andes in Soacha, Cundinamarca
The Andes are a must-visit during a trip to South America. Crossing seven countries, these glorious mountain ranges are fundamental to the formation of the fascinating history, rich cultures, and varying cuisines of this continent.
Soacha is one such town that sits on the hip of the Andes. It is here, on the outskirts of this town space, that families and friends spend their weekends enjoying the simple pleasures of the countryside.
With mild weather and refreshing breezes, this side of the Andes makes for a perfect biking & kiting spot. Colombia is a devoted biking nation. Dozens of locals spend hours riding through the vast greenery. In the distance, domesticated ungulates dot the many farmlands. The undulating and grassy plains stretch into the hilly grounds, creating a backdrop that creates a lasting impression.
For the Easygoing and Laid Back:
Finally, Colombia is a paradise when it comes to relaxation. From silent hills to uninterrupted beaches, there are many options for travelers who prefer to lay low. Tour a coffee farm or nap in a hammock, because vacation is all about rejuvenation.
Tour a Coffee Farm in Jerico, Antioquia
Jerico isn’t the oldest town in Antioquia, the Colombian department known for its colonial pueblos. Nor is it the most colorful. But the community feel and relative peace and quiet of Jerico make it my favorite destination in the coffee region.
Jerico is best known as the birthplace of Santa Laura, Colombia’s first and only saint. Religion is very important in this small town, which has no fewer than 17 churches. The biggest, an impressive brick cathedral, sits at the head of Jerico’s town square, which is lined with bars, restaurants and coffee shops. Other things to do include wandering the laneways filled with prettily painted houses, visiting museums dedicated to the town’s history, walking through the botanical garden, and climbing a nearby hill for a view of the town.
Jerico is nestled in the mountains and blessed with a mild climate (not unlike nearby Medellin) making it perfect for outdoor adventures. Paragliding, touring coffee farms and hiking are just some of the activities on offer.
We planned to spend a few days in Jerico but ended up staying for a whole week. The warm hospitality and community feel of this little town is something I won’t soon forget.
Indulge in Colonial Architecture at the Walled City in Cartagena, Bolivar
With its strategic location on the north coast of Colombia, Cartagena became a major port during the colonial era. Under the Spanish Empire, the city was a primary location for key political, economic, and administrative duties. When Spain commissioned Bautista Antonelli to draw up a defense strategy for its Caribbean ports in 1586, the designs of the Walled City came to be.
With over 400 years of history and plenty of well-restored buildings, the Walled City preserves a charm that is rarely found in modern-day urban spaces. The colorful dwellings are accompanied by narrow streets, dozens of gourmet restaurants, small museums, churches, and dozens of artisan shops.
Lounge in a Hammock at Islas del Rosario
The Islas del Rosario are one of my favorite places in Colombia. Located just an hour away from Cartagena by boat, these islands make the perfect day trip if you want to get away from the city. The islands are part of a national park in Colombia, which means they are beautifully preserved and protected. If you’re looking for a beach paradise, this is it.
The Islas del Rosario is made up of sandy white beaches and warm crystal-blue waters that are perfect for swimming or snorkeling. If you’d rather relax on the beach, the islands are also the perfect place for spending the day lounging in a hammock or getting a massage right by the ocean.
Fans of seafood will be delighted at how fresh everything is; in fact, local fishermen might dock their boats nearby and bring you their fresh catches of the day! Finally, the sunsets at the Islas del Rosario are some of the best you will see in Colombia! Watching the sunset is the perfect way to finish off a day at this beautiful Colombian destination.
Stay on a Finca in Salento, Quindío
Nothing says quietude than staying on a finca in Salento. The vast greenery and rolling hills of this beautiful region make it the optimal location for rest and rejuvenation.
When I first arrived on top of the hill towards the finca, I was quickly captivated by its simplicity. Looking down, a carpet of grassy field stretched into the cloudless sky. In the middle of the field sat a small wooden lodge. To the left, a slight downhill patch led to jade-green forestry. The stillness of this landscape was only interrupted by a few mild breezes and a couple of chirping birds.
Spend a few days enjoying the sun, fresh coffee, and refreshing silence that come with this region’s charm.
Unsurprisingly, Colombia is full of engaging pastimes. From long treks to lazy walks, the country offers plenty of options for any traveler. Truth be told, even a couple of months will not be enough to experience all of that Colombia has to offer. Having spent a couple of weeks backpacking across this South American gem, I already can’t wait to go back!
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