11 Best Places to Visit in Colombia
June 23, 2018
Colombia is one of my personal favorite countries! There is so much to do and see there that any trip to Colombia is guaranteed to be amazing. Are you traveling to Colombia? Don’t know where to go exactly? Don’t worry, because in this blog I will highlight the 11 best places to visit in Colombia (places you definitely won’t want to miss!)
11 Best Places to Visit in Colombia
Colombia is quickly becoming South America’s most popular country for travelers. In recent years, safety issues have been mostly resolved and the country and its people are now taking full advantage of it. As Colombia opens its doors to the now millions of visitors each year, the places you can now visit are becoming vast.
To the south, you have the beautiful highlands that breathe fresh produce such as the famous Colombian coffee beans. To the north, the hot weather and beautiful beaches stun those who visit them and seemingly turn back time.
Chances are that you will run out of time before you run out of places to visit in Colombia! That being said, it is helpful to know the best places to visit in Colombia so you can plan your vacation accordingly.
After travelling in Colombia for 6 weeks myself, these are what I consider to be the 11 best places to visit in Colombia!
Ahh, Medellin. This beautiful city was once the most dangerous in all of Colombia. However these days Medellin is a beautiful city that boasts both the busy city vibe while still maintaining so much charm.
The perfect weather all year round has given Medellin the nickname “the city of eternal spring”.
The beautiful streets of Poblado located in Medellin’s south are filled with world-class restaurants, stunning bars, and a vibe that makes you never want to leave. Medellin is my favorite city in all of South America, but doesn’t take my word for it, check it out yourself!
2. Tayrona National Park
Tayrona National Park is located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast near the city of Santa Marta. This rather small National Park is truly spectacular. The tropical climate of the north has made this beautiful park absolute paradise.
Tayrona National Park is one of the best places to visit in Colombia because of its breathtaking landscape. Dense jungle forest meets white sandy beaches that meet the bluest water you will ever see. Nature lovers (like myself) will find the scenery in Tayrona some of the best in the world!
Tayrona is explored by either hiking or horseback only, and the best thing is you can do to get the most out of your visit is to stay the night! From hammocks and campsites to stunning beach villas, Tayrona has accommodation for everyone and is certainly not to be missed!
Salento is one of the most peaceful places on earth. Located in the hills of southern Colombia this magical town is surrounded by beauty.
The region around Salento is famous for growing coffee and a short wander of the town will make that very clear. On every corner, small boutique coffee shops brew coffee every way you could think but with their own unique touch. People often say Colombians know how to grow coffee but not roast it. Well, Salento’s here to change that!
In Salento, I personally really enjoyed just taking in the scenery and drinking lots of coffee. But, there are a few fun things to do like go on a coffee farm tour, or hike to the viewpoint overlooking the town.
For me, a visit to Salento was like a journey back in time. The cobblestone streets and colorful colonial buildings were picture perfect set against the rolling hills of the countryside in the background.
Minca is a small town that sits in the hills that overlook the city of Santa Marta. It is a popular place among local Colombians and tourists who enjoy Minca’s high elevation and cooler temperatures. On average Minca is 10 degrees colder than Santa Marta and as the temperature changes so do your surroundings.
Minca is surrounded by beautiful forests, picturesque waterfalls, and fantastic views. You can go for the day or stay a few nights and while your there you can tour a local coffee farm, swim in the rivers, or just sit back relax and enjoy the cooler temperatures.
Day tours run from Santa Marta and include a visit to a few waterfalls, a coffee tour, and a tour of the town! But if you want to go on your own and spend a couple nights in Minca public transport is available from the main bus terminal in Santa Marta or a private shuttle can be organized by your accommodation.
Minca is a small hidden gem that can’t be missed!
5. Valle de Cocora (Cocora Valley)
The Valle de Cocora is one of best places in Colombia because it is truly unique.
Located near Salento, the Valle de Cocora is home to Colombia’s famous Wax Palms. These Wax Palms stand over 40m tall and consist of only one main stem. Wandering through the hiking trails around the valley is a breathtaking and peaceful way to spend the day. So breathtaking in fact, that it’s made our 11 best places to visit in Colombia!
The Valle de Cocora is free to hike and explore! It is also easily accessed by a ‘collectivo’ (shared taxi) jeep from Salento for only 4,000 COP per person. From the main plaza in Salento these jeeps leave regularly and the ride only takes about 40 minutes to the Valle de Cocora. From there, you can explore the area on foot or hire a horse!
Historically, Cartagena was one of the most fought over cities in Colombia, and after visiting it’s not hard to see why!
Located on the Caribbean coast to the north, Cartagena is a city rich in both history and culture. The African influence is ripe here and the mix of three different cultures (Spanish, African, Native) means there’s plenty of new foods to try!
Walking the old fort is a step back in time while walking the huge fort wall that surrounds the city is a great example of just how important this city really was. Venture outside the city and you’re welcomed by calm Caribbean seas and white sandy beaches such as Playa Blanca!
7. San Andres Island
San Andres Island is located 500 miles from Colombia, it is actually closer to the coast of Nicaragua rather than Colombia! Both countries still bicker today about who really has the rights to the soil but regardless it’s beautiful.
This small island leaves your traditional Colombian culture behind and opens you up to a culture all of its own. On San Andres Island there is a strong Jamaican presence along with Colombians and expats that really shapes the unique vibe found here.
Apart from the many amazing beaches, the island is also home to some world class scuba diving that I really loved. The many reefs around San Andres Island are colorful and filled with sea life. The diving here is considered to be some of the best in the world and based on my own experience, I would have to agree.
After a day exploring you’re welcomed with stunning sunsets and fresh seafood! This island is a magical place that’s truly in the middle of the sea! San Andres Island is without a doubt one of the best places to visit in Colombia.
8. San Gil
Welcome to Colombia’s adventure capital! Here in San Gil many adventure activities are on offer and at rather great prices. For only $20 USD you can leap off a platform 70m high attached only by a bungee cord! It’s known as the cheapest place in the world to bungee, and take my word for it, it’s amazing!
Other than bungee jumping, you can try whitewater rafting, paragliding, abseiling, and more. After a day of activities, you can try your luck at a local Colombian game called Tejo. With all this and more it’s no wonder San Gil made our list of the 11 best places to visit in Colombia.
Guatape is a small town situated only an hour from Medellin. It is famous for a few things and probably the most pronounced is El Penol, the 10,000-ton monolithic rock located 5 minutes from the city. The locals claim that the views from the top of El Penol “are the best in the world” and despite not quite agreeing, it is still spectacular.
The town of Guatape is located on the bank of a man-made lake that is home to hundreds of small islands and from the top of El Penol you see it all! There is a catch though, to get that view you must endure over 700 stairs to climb to the top of El Penol. Worth it? I think so!
Another reason Guatape is one of the best places to visit in Colombia is that is is the most colorful town I have ever seen! Many colonial-style towns feature colorful buildings and cute houses covered in flowers, but I have never seen any to the extent of Guatape. Guatape is painted with rainbow colors, everywhere. I personally loved the many photo opportunities this created!
Palamino is another town on the Carribean coast, however, this place is not famous for the nearby beaches and instead for the famous river tubing down the nearby river. The town is fully booked out on weekends as many travelers head out for the tubing and the following party! Although not as famous as the Vang Vieng tubing in Laos it’s still worth checking out!
The El Rio Hostel is commonly rated as one of the best hostels in Colombia and it is located close to Palomino as well as Tayrona National Park. People go here to unwind next to the river doing activities such as yoga and paddleboarding.
Palomino is both accessible from Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park by public bus.
11. Las Lajas Cathedral
Ipiales is pretty far from anywhere and is a good 10-hour bus ride from Cali south. Located on the border with Ecuador, Ipiales is a rather unpleasant city, however, it has a rather famous cathedral located just outside of the city that makes a trip here so worth it.
The Las Lajas Cathedral is one of the most spectacular cathedrals I have ever seen. It is far better than any others in South America and would even put a many in Europe to shame.
Las Lajas is easily reached by a collectivo from the bus terminal in Ipiales that costs only 2,500 COP per person each way. Checking out Las Lajas is free!
Situated in a small valley, Las Lajas was built with precision and the architecture is truly amazing. I think the photo below speaks for itself! It is definitely one of the best places to visit in Colombia and worth checking out if you are crossing the border to or from Ecuador.
Colombia is not only one of my favorite countries in South America but its also the country that most exceeded my expectations. I was blown away by what I saw and how far the country has come. The stigma that surrounds Colombia is quickly fading and its really not hard to see why!
If you have decided to visit Colombia then this list of the 11 best things to do in Colombia should get you off to a great start!