From its sparkling Caribbean coastline to its snow-capped Andean mountains and lush Amazon Rainforest, Colombia has no shortage of incredible destinations to visit. Colombia was the first country I ever solo traveled to, sparking a love for travel that led me to this full-time nomadic lifestyle that I live now. For that, it’ll always hold a special little nook in my heart. No matter how many times I visit Colombia, it always feels like there is somewhere new to be explored and a new reason to fall further in love with this country. While there are many amazing travel destinations in Colombia, here are the best of the best.
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Salento and Valle de Cocora
This is without a doubt my favorite place I visited in Colombia. The Valle de Cocora is home to otherworldly landscapes, highlighted by the towering wax palms that are unique to this region of Colombia. The loop that takes you around the Cocora Valley is a favorite hike of mine in South America. Along with the Cocora Valley, one can visit a coffee farm or go on other excursions to the neighboring villages, like Filandia. The town of Salento is a charming and colorful home base for exploring the nearby natural wonders. It truly feels like another planet out here, and no visit to Colombia is complete without immersing yourself in the eje cafetero. The vibe here is wonderful, and playing tejo with the locals over a few Aguilas is the perfect way to spend an evening after hiking.
Touristy as it may be, Guatape is still a must-visit. The colorful town has a unique style of decoration that distinguishes it from Colombia’s other beautiful villages. You’ll find the zocalos depicting various scenes painted and sculpted onto the exterior of Guatape’s buildings. The town is very vibrant, photogenic and truly an Instagrammer’s paradise. Along with a visit to the town of Guatape itself, be sure to climb up El Peñol, the monolith towering over the countryside. It’s hard to miss. Hike up the 649 steps to reach the top where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the lush countryside and the turquoise dragon-esque lake.
Medellin is truly something else. This sprawling city surrounded by rolling green hills is one-of-a-kind. I’ve yet to visit a city that matched the vibe of Medellin. I’ve spent over a month in Medellin and this city truly never gets boring. Medellin boasts an incredible nightlife scene, arguably the best in all of Colombia. The tourist center is in El Poblado, and I’d recommend staying here for first-time visitors looking to find their footing in this often chaotic city. Masaya Medellin and Los Patios Hostel are two of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in, and I’m talking about the entire world. Be sure to pay a visit to Comuna 13. This barrio was once among the most dangerous in the world, but has been reinvented through art, music, and color.
San Bernardo Islands
If you want some island vibes without being surrounded by tourists, then the San Bernardo Islands are where it’s at. It’s worth the journey from Cartagena to escape the crowds. The beaches here are hidden gems and are immaculate, especially those on Isla Mucura and Tintipan. You’ll find some amazing and unique hostels, like the floating hostel of Casa En El Agua, and Isla Roots Hostel situated on its own private island.
Cartagena is a special place. It was the starting point of my first backpacking trip. Despite how its changed over the years, it remains an essential stop on any Colombia travel itinerary. The Old Town of Cartagena, nestled inside the walls of the old fortress, is colorful, charming, and as photogenic as it gets. Just outside the Walled City of Cartagena, you’ll find the vibrant neighborhood of Getsemani, filled with street art and life.
Cartagena serves as a great home base for exploring some of Colombia’s finest Caribbean beaches. Although it is easily the most expensive destination in Colombia, it’s still worth stopping by for a few days. Casa Zahri in Getsemani or Viajero in the Walled City are my two hostel picks for Cartgena.
Tayrona National Park
Perhaps the most famous of Colombia’s many beaches is Tayrona National Park. The coastal city of Santa Marta is where most visits to Tayrona start. From there, take a bus or taxi to the entrance before beginning a sweaty hike through the jungle and along the coast. It’s possible to camp or hammock camp on the beach itself, which many travelers will do to give themselves enough time to enjoy the beauty of this place. With turquoise waters, golden sands, and lush, jungly landscapes, Tayrona is the perfect place to disconnect for a day or two.
Minca is the perfect destination for a retreat into the tranquil Colombian sierras. Located only an hour away from Santa Marta, it serves as a convenient gateway to adventure. Whether you’re hoping to chase waterfalls or simply kick back on a hammock and take in the views, Minca can’t be missed. Despite its popularity, it is still a pretty barebones destination. Don’t expect much in the way of Wi-Fi or luxury, but with views like these, you don’t need much else. Most hostels in Minca will offer similar properties, but among the best of the best are Mundo Nuevo Ecolodge, Carpe Diem Ecolodge, and my favorite hostel chain in Colombia – Masaya.
Ciudad Perdida Trek (The Lost City)
A 4-day trek will take you to one of Colombia’s most iconic destinations, The Lost City. While it’s no Machu Picchu, these Incan ruins are lesser-traveled and much more remote. I haven’t done this yet, since I do find it to be a little pricy compared to similar treks to archaeological sites that one can do in Peru. However, my friends who have done it speak very highly of it. Just be sure to pack some bug spray before setting off on Colombia’s most famous trek.
San Gil and Barichara
San Gil is often called the adventure capital of Colombia. It’s pretty fitting, to be fair. You can take to the skies with a paragliding trip over Chicamocha Canyon. Or, you can rappel down Juan Curi waterfalls if that’s more your fancy. Exploring caves, white-water rafting, and more await in the town of San Gil. It reminds me a lot of Baños in Ecuador, but even more affordable. Paragliding and white-water rafting will only run you 200,000 COP, or about $55 USD.
The hostel I stayed at was Sams VIP Hostel, with dorm beds starting as low as $4 USD per night. The staff will happily help you organize whatever adventure you want to go on. They also have a pool and a sauna, as well as affordable massages at about $20 USD for an hour. It’s the perfect way to treat yourself after a long day of adventuring. Be sure not to miss a visit to neighboring Barichara, thought by some to be the most beautiful town in Colombia.
Villa De Leyva, Boyaca
Ahh, Villa de Leyva. I was honestly glad I didn’t visit until the last few days of my two-month Colombia adventure. If I had visited any earlier, I might have spent my entire time here. The vibe here is immaculate. This beautiful colonial town of all-white buildings has a very laid-back energy. It’s the perfect spot to lay low after a hectic travel schedule, and I’d say a top destination for remote workers in Colombia. An aimless wander along the cobblestone streets is a massage for your feet and a sight for your eyes. It might also lead to sprained ankles if you aren’t careful, because dang, these cobblestone streets don’t mess around.
Carnaval in Barranquilla
The biggest party in Colombia (and second biggest in the world) takes place in Barranquilla. While I don’t find the city of Barranquilla itself to be all that great, if you happen to be around during Carnaval, the city transforms entirely. It’s a weeklong party with colorful costumes, street parties, and nonstop music. There are two sides to Carnaval in Barranquilla. One can have a very cultural experience, as it is also a huge showcase of the many cultures that call Colombia home. On the other hand, one can go strictly to party and have the time of their life. The party never stops during Carnival. Colombia is already a country that loves to drink and dance, and that’s exponentially amplified during Carnival Week in Barranquilla.
Leticia and the Amazon Rainforest
Along with the Andes Mountains and Caribbean Coastline, Colombia is also home to a chunk of the Amazon Rainforest. Talk about a diversely beautiful country. Leticia is the main gateway to the Amazon, located all the way to the south of the country, right on a shared border with Peru and Brazil. In fact, you can actually stand on all three countries at once if you wish.
The lively but chaotic capital of Colombia is a pretty polarizing destination. Ask a random traveler off the street what they think of Bogota, and there’s a 50/50 chance that they’ll say they either love it or hate it. I feel pretty similarly, but do think that a few days in Bogota can be well spent. While it’s no Medellin,, Bogota is a cool, lively, and vibrant city with plenty of things to keep you busy. The main concern is that it can be quite unsafe, and you have a high chance of being separated from your belongings. Just remember the motto of Colombia, no dar papaya, and you should be okay.
Some highlights of Bogota are Cerro Monserrat, the historic center, the colorful Comuna Paraiso, and the vibrant nightlife district of Chapinero. Teatron might be one of my favorite clubs I’ve ever been to, so be sure to dance the night away there at least once.
And of course, there are so many other places that I’ve yet to visit that are on my bucket list. Here are a few of those destinations that are yet to be ticked off.
Nevado de Cocuy National Park
The landscapes here look straight out of Patagonia. The Colombian Andes might be the most underrated and overlooked out of the entire mountain range, but make sure not to make that mistake. There are plenty of hiking opportunities in this national park and the other Andean regions of Colombia.
This place looks out of this world. These waterfalls and river boasts colors that don’t seem real. I’ve yet to see them for myself, so I have no idea if they live up to the expectations, but it’s been on my Colombia bucket list since my first visit. It’s a bit out of the way for the typical traveler, but if it’s half as beautiful as the pictures make it look, then it’s worth it.
Las Lajas Sanctuary
This cathedral is practically in the middle of nowhere, but it’s so beautiful that people make the journey nonetheless. I’ve yet to do it myself, but if you happen to be in the area or hopping the border over to Ecuador, it’s worth the detour.
Colombia truly has it all. Snow-capped peaks to sparkling waters, lush Amazon jungles to otherworldly deserts like Tatacoa. With landscapes straight out of Mars, Tatacoa is one of Colombia’s most surreal natural wonders.
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