20 BEST Places to Visit in Colombia
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Colombia is one of, if not my very favorite country that I have visited in the world. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend well over 5 months there and in the future plan to spend many more.
Well, Colombia is a beautiful country filled with amazing things to do and, of course, places to visit. From the Caribbean coast to the mountainous regions to the Amazon, Colombia has something for every traveler.
But with tourism only beginning to ramp up, where are the best places to visit in Colombia?
Well, after many months of traveling between 2017 and 2020 I’ve come up with the best places to visit in Colombia that every traveler should add to their bucket list!
Medellin is high on every traveler’s list of places to visit in Colombia. The city was once the most dangerous in Colombia but now boasts the trendiest cafes, bars, and restaurants. It’s hard to come to Medellin and not spoil yourself with amazing food.
But venture out of the tourist area of El Poblado and you’ll find plenty to do. Some of the best activities include the infamous Comuna 13 tour, riding the cable cars to Parque Arvi, and the Real City free walking tour downtown (it’s the best I’ve ever done!)
Due to Medellin’s elevation, the weather is perfect all year round. This has given Medellin the nickname “the city of eternal spring”. The city is livable, safe, and very inviting.
Medellin is my favorite city in all of Latin America and should be on every traveler’s Colombia Itinerary!
Check out our Medellin itinerary blog, it is a day by day planning guide to make the most of this amazing city!
Guatape is a small town situated only two hours from Medellin. It is famous for a few reasons 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, I think that it’s still spectacular.
The town of Guatape is located on the bank of a man-made lake that is home to hundreds of small islands. From the top of El Penol, you can 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 it is the most colorful town I have ever seen! The buildings around the town are colored beautifully and also decorated with the famous zocalos. Zocalos are the pretty decorations on the lower part of the buildings and you’ll see plenty in Guatape.
You can either go on a day trip to Guatape from Medellin or spend a night or two. If you ask me what’s better then I most definitely would stay a few nights. There’s actually a lot of amazing things to do in Guatape that can’t be done on just a day trip!
Jardin was once a little known Puebla near Medellin that locals visited to escape the city. Surrounded by coffee plantations, it is considered the “less touristic Salento.” However, the secrets out and Jardin is quickly becoming a popular place to visit in Colombia.
With that said, in comparison to Guatape and Salento, it’s quiet (especially during the week.)
In Jardin, you can accomplish quite a lot. Some of the best things to do include taking the cable car to get a stunning view of the town, coffee plantation tours, horse riding tours and of course my favorite, sipping coffee in the main square.
Also, be sure to check out the main cathedral as it’s simply stunning on the inside. The botanical gardens are also a nice way to spend an hour or two.
Overall, Jardin is a great alternative if you want to escape the crowds, but get in quick because this town is too beautiful to stay quiet forever!
Important: From Medellin, it takes around 3 hours to reach Jardin by bus. From Terminal Norte, there are two companies that make the trip, Rapido Ochoa and Brasilia. Tickets cost 25,000 COP.
Cartagena is the most beautiful city in Colombia. Wandering the walled colonial city will literally take your breath away.
Located on the Caribbean coast to the north, Cartagena is a city rich in both history and culture. The African influence is strong here and the mix of three different cultures (Spanish, African, and Native) means there’s plenty of new food to try!
Walking the old city 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 to the nearby beaches and you’re welcomed by calm Caribbean seas and white sandy beaches such as Playa Blanca.
There’s so much to do in Cartagena you could spend weeks here. However, a few things I recommend doing include a city walking tour to learn about the city’s history, wandering the old city, visit La Cervicharia (Cartagena’s most famous restaurant), and a trip to one of the many islands or beaches nearby.
Regardless of what you love, I am sure you’ll find it in Cartagena!
5. San Andres Island
San Andres Island is located 500 miles from Colombia deep in the Caribbean. In fact, San Andres Island is actually closer to the coast of Nicaragua than Colombia! Both countries still bicker about who really has the rights to this piece of paradise, but as of right now, San Andres Island is technically part of Colombia.
This small island leaves traditional Colombian culture behind and opens you up to a new culture all of its own. On San Andres Island you’ll find a very Caribbean atmosphere and when you first arrive you may think you’re actually in Jamaica.
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.
6. Rosario Islands
The Rosario Islands are 30 stunning Caribbean islands off the coast of Cartagena with some just an hour boat ride away. They provide a great opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of Cartagena and enjoy some island time!
From Cartagena, you can explore many of the islands with some of the most popular being Isla Grande and Isla Baru. What makes Isla Baru so popular is that you can actually get there by car as there is a bridge connecting it to the mainland. The beach that famous here is Playa Blanca that you can visit on day tours, however, if you want a true island getaway you’ll have to venture out to Isla Grande.
On Isla Grande, there is a range of accommodation options and you can enjoy a luxury or cheap escape. From the island, you can do snorkeling tours, boat trips, and eat fresh seafood right from the ocean.
Another Island that’s visited on day trips is Isla Cholon. On weekend’s Colombians and tourists meet at a sand bar and a wild party is hosted during the day. This is a must-do for anyone who loves to party Colombian style!
Regardless of where you go, the Rosario Islands will take you to some of the nicest beaches in Colombia!
7. Tayrona National Park
Tayrona National Park is truly a special place to visit in Colombia. Tayrona is located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast near the city of Santa Marta.
Within the park, there’s one main hiking trail that can be accessed from two locations with the most popular being the El Zaino entrance. This end of the trail visits most of the stunning beaches in Tayrona National Park.
As the national park is on the coast, the beaches here are pristine. Some of the most popular beaches to visit include Cabo San Juan and La Piscina. Both of these beaches can be visited on a day trip or overnight trip to the park. At Cabo San Juan there are accommodation options such as hammocks and camping.
Another cool beach you can visit only by boat from Taganga (a town near Santa Marta) is Playa Crystal. This beach is only visited by boat from Taganga and you can only stay for the day. However, it is considered one of the best beach destinations in Colombia.
8. Santa Marta
Santa Marta is a city that gets a bad reputation in Colombia. But for many, it will be your gateway to some of the most beautiful places to visit in Colombia. For starters, it sits on the doorstep of Minca and is your gateway to Tayrona National Park as well as many remote beaches along the Caribbean coast.
There are a lot of great things to do in Santa Marta including visiting a few museums, sailing trips, and of course, lots of day trips to the places mentioned above.
I personally love Santa Marta. There isn’t anything much better than wandering the beach at sunset and enjoying a cheap drink. Yes, the beach here is busy, but it’s filled with Colombians and as such, very vibrant.
My recommendation is to avoid the middle of the day around the city. At this time it’s far too hot, but in the afternoon the place cools down and becomes full of life. Instead, spend your days exploring the surrounding area including Playa Blanca or Taganga. Then when it cools off, head to the beach for drinks at Sunset Bar!
Minca is a small town that sits in the hills that overlook the city of Santa Marta. It’s a popular place among local Colombians as well as international 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, wildlife, and fantastic views. You can either visit Minca on a day trip or spend a few nights there. On day trips you’ll visit places like Pozo Azul, enjoy a coffee tour, and some cool viewpoints – but you won’t get the full experience.
My recommendation is to spend a few nights in Minca and choose a hotel surrounded by nature with breathtaking views. Some of the best include Casas Viejas (my favorite,) Loma Nevada Minca Hotel and Reserva Natural Tierra Adentro For these hotels, you can bird watch from your room and spot hummingbirds feeding on flowers.
Also while you’re in Minca, be sure to visit lots of waterfalls, join a wildlife tour, and tour some of the local coffee and cacao farms. The most popular coffee farm is La Victoria and here they also make their own craft beer! For more info check out our guide to the best things to do in Minca, Colombia.
10. Costeño Beach
If the busy beaches of Santa Marta have got you a little disappointed then Costeño Beach is the perfect place to visit in Colombia. This remote beach is only home to a few hotels and hostels. There’s no town or shops – just palm trees and a white sandy beach.
Located only an hour from Santa Marta you can easily reach Costeño Beach with the same bus that goes to Tayrona. In fact, Costeño Beach is one of the first beaches after Tayrona National Park so it’s not only a great place to avoid the crowds, but also to use as a base to visit Tayrona National Park. From Costeño, you are only 10 minutes from the entrance to the park and can get there for 10,000 COP.
At Costeño you can enjoy some downtime away from the crowds, take a surf lesson, go horse riding, or enjoy a relaxing massage. With that said, Costeno Beach does come with one catch, the beach is very rough and not great for swimming. However, just pick a hotel with a pool like the Costeño Beach Hostel!
We have a great guide to Costeño Beach for more info! It includes the best places to stay, things to do, getting there, and very important things to know before you go!
For some, the remoteness of Costeño Beach is a little bit of a turn-off. So instead, head a little further along the coast to Palomino. Palomino is a small beach town perfect for some time away from the big cities of Colombia. Despite being only 2 hours from Santa Marta, you’ll be surrounded by palm trees, a pristine beach, and lots of friendly street dogs.
Palomino is only around 45 minutes from Costeño Beach but boasts a lot more infrastructure including lots of great hostels and hotels, trendy cafes, and very good restaurants. For many, this is the perfect mix.
The most famous thing to do in Palomino is river-tubing. On these tours, you’ll be taken to the El Buritica River with your guide. Here you’ll jump on your tube and float the 1.5 to 2 hours towards the beach. The surrounding scenery is breathtaking and this activity is one of the best things to do in Colombia.
Both Costeno Beach and Palomino are must-visit places in Colombia – and you can easily visit one after the other because of their close proximity!
12. San Gil
San Gil is known as Colombia’s adventure capital. Here you can join a range of great tours including abseiling and (my favorite) bungee jumping! For only 70,000 COP ($20 USD) you can leap off a platform 70 meters (230 feet) high attached only by a bungee cord. It’s known as the cheapest place in the world to bungee jump, and take my word for it, it’s amazing.
Other than bungee jumping, you can do lots of activities in San Gil including whitewater rafting, paragliding, and more. After a day of activities, you can try your luck at a local Colombian game called Tejo.
In the game, you’ll throw and bag at a target and if you hit it, gun powder will go off. It’s usually played with lots of alcohol so do be careful!
With all of this and more, it’s no wonder San Gil made our list of the 20 best places to visit in Colombia!
13. Nuquí on the Pacific Coast
Nuquí is a very remote town on Colombia’s Pacific coast. This part of the country is completely cut off from the rest of Colombia and the only way to get there is by flight. Only in recent times has the region opened to tourists and its now a must for any traveler who loves getting off the beaten path.
You won’t get Wi-Fi out here or many creature comforts, but what you will get are stunning waterfalls, authentic culture, luscious jungles, hot springs, and lots and lots of wildlife. One of the most popular wildlife tours here is whale watching and during the months of June to October, you’re bound to see plenty.
Other than whale watching tours you can take trips to nearby remote beaches, visit mangroves, take a trip down the Rio Jovi and visit beautiful waterfalls. A trip to Nuquí is about getting into a culture cut off from the rest of the world and visiting something truly unique in a world so known.
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 of 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. For more check out our guide to Salento, Colombia.
15. Valle de Cocora
Valle de Cocora is one of the best places to explore 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 40 meters 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 20 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!
Bogota is Colombia’s capital, and to many, the very starting point of their trip. Most people only spend a day or two here as they fly in or out, but in that time, you can enjoy some of the best attractions Bogota has to offer.
My personal favorite tour is graffiti walking tours. On these interesting tours, you’ll visit some of the most famous murals in the city and learn about the story and history behind them. This tour is a history lesson through art and one I highly recommend.
Another thing you should do is take the cable car up to the top of Monserrate Hill. From the top, you can enjoy breathtaking views of the city, especially at sunset!
Despite being “just another big city” don’t waste your time in Bogota and get out and see this vibrant city!
The Amazon jungle is one of the must-visit places in the world. But, what many people don’t know is that you can visit the Amazon Jungle in Colombia. Leticia is just one of a few places to visit the Amazon in Colombia, but in my opinion, the best choice.
Located right on the border with Peru and Brazil, this small town sits on the upper part of the Amazon River. This off-the-beaten-path town is actually quite easy to get to by flight from Botogta and a few airlines (including Avianca) operate this route.
Once in Leticia, there are lots of tours you can do with the most popular being boat cruises down the Amazon River (yes, the actual Amazon River.)
On these tours, you’ll jump on a boat and visit Isla de Los Micos where you can see tons of monkeys, visit a remote village, see the lake of jumping fish, watch for Pink dolphins, visit the largest water lilies in the world, and enjoy a local meal. This is a must-do tour and one I loved!
Another popular thing to do is to visit Peru and Brazil. As you are right on the border you can simply jump over and enjoy a Caprihuna (Brazil’s national cocktail) or head to Peru for some ceviche and a glass of Inca Cola. Talk about a cool place to visit in Colombia!
Cali is the salsa capital of the world, so guess what? The best and must-do things in the city involve salsa!
First off, be sure to join a salsa class. These are super common around the city and you can do a private or group lesson. Most hotels and hostels can provide these or book you a tour.
Next, go to a salsa show and see how the professionals do it. These shows will blow your mind, and around the city there are lots to choose from. Delirio is a very famous salsa circus and the performances are very entertaining.
If you don’t wat to see a show you can also head to one of the hundreds of salsa bars to test your skills. A great place is called La Topa Tolondra. This is a very popular salsa bar and you’ll find some great dancers here!
Salsa aside, there’s lots more to do in Cali. So, be sure to stay for a few nights to see the entire city and enjoy one of Colombia’s least touristic cities filled with authentic experiences! Although not the most popular place to visit in Colombia, it is still one of the best!
Popayan is a little known city south of Cali. In fact, it’s often not visited by many tourists – but that’s what makes it a fun place to explore. We stopped here on our way north from Ecuador and enjoyed a few nights wandering the beautiful colonial buildings in the city center.
There are lots of great restaurants and bars and things are cheap here as it’s a university city. Be sure to head to the Popayan viewpoint in town to watch the sunset.
Although there isn’t much to do in Popayan, it’s still a great option if you’re heading south towards Ecuador or vice versa. You can mingle with Colombians and enjoy the laid back atmosphere away from the tourist trail.
20. Las Lajas Cathedral
Located on the border with Ecuador, Ipiales is a rather unpleasant city with a rather famous cathedral. Located just outside of the city sits the most beautiful cathedral in all of South America which makes a trip here so worth it.
The Las Lajas Sanctuary 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 many in Europe to shame.
Situated in a small valley, Las Lajas was built with precision and the architecture is truly amazing. I think the photo above 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.
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! For more information, read our blog all about Las Lajas Sanctuary.
Prepare for Your Trip
You should never travel without insurance (as I learned recently when I had an incident.) Thankfully I was covered by SafteyWing medical insurance and got an emergency evacuation flight home. Because of this, I highly recommend SafteyWing Travel Insurance. However, World Nomads is a company who we also use.
There are lots of provides out there but these are the cheapest and best we have found over the 8 years we have been traveling.
If you like to book tours in advance then Bailey and I always recommend using GetYourGuide. The service is really good and prices are usually the same as they are in the city or town you are visiting. You can also use Viator which is a TripAdvisor company, however, we aren’t the biggest fans of TripAdvisor.
For all of our accommodation, we use one of two companies… Booking.com or Hostelworld. The reason? Well between the two you can find almost every hotel in the world and they both have great cancelation policy options and price match guarantees.
This comes in handy if you’re booking in advance and prices change closer to the date. Trust me, you should always check this as you can save lots!
Before you go…
Colombia is a country everyone falls in love with, and with a list this long of breathtaking places to visit, it’s no wonder why.
I really hope you enjoyed this blog on the best places to visit in Colombia. If you have any questions about the places mentioned above or anything else, please leave them below in the comments.
Also, if you loved this blog, be sure to check out all our other Colombia travel blogs too!
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
Travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars many times. World Nomads is a great company to use if you are an adventure traveler like us!
March 30, 2020