Colombia is an incredible country with so much to offer it's visitors and locals alike. Deciding where to visit in Colombia, where to base yourself, or even how much time you need in this South American gem can be a lot to decide.
Although I haven't personally visited all of these places, my husband is from Colombia and helped me put together this list of places. Some are his preferences, others are mine, but most of them we both agree are fantastic places to visit in Colombia.
With Colombia's tumultuous past many see the country as a dangerous destination to travel to. I can assure you, Colombia has worked hard to move past it's reputation and has a lot to offer it's tourists. While much of the larger danger is a thing of the past, it is important that just like any other country, you take some basic safety precautions and are extra mindful of your belongings.
With the white sand beaches of Tayrona National Park, the colonial architecture of Cartagena, and the hot springs of Santa Rosa, there are so many reasons to choose Colombia as your next destination.
These are the 14 best places to visit in Colombia on your next trip to South America.
Everyone should travel to Medellin at least once. It went from one of the most dangerous places in South America to the trendiest, with cafes, bars, and restaurants to suit every taste.
The popular El Poblado area is brimming with great hotels, hostels, and coworking spaces. It's very popular with digital nomads, making it an incredibly eclectic place. The city is liveable and inviting if you're looking to stay a while and live in Medellin.
Restaurante El Cielo is a great place to try fine dining with a reasonable price tag. A non-profit dedicated to restoring peace in the country, chefs and other staff are hired from both sides of the drug war to promote communication and a new beginning.
Shows like Narcos have popularised Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel but it’s not a name you can mention here as the horrific events of the 1980s and 1990s are still fresh in people's minds. Plus, keep in mind that Narcos greatly westernized what really happened and a quick way to frustrate locals is to thing you're an expert on the topic simply due to that show.
Take the cable cars to La Comuna 13 and join a guided tour run by a local to understand how the events affected the area. It's also one of the best places to see street art in Colombia.
A must visit from Medellin is Guatapé. Make sure to spend at least a night or two. It's known as the most colorful town in Colombia and is easily one of the most beautiful places to visit. The traditional buildings covered in flowers look like something from Disney's "Encanto", with hand-painted murals relating to the occupier's hobbies or job.
Day trips to El Peñol to climb the famous Piedra del Peñol are a must. Take the 625+ steps carved into the rock side by local farmers to get some of the best views in Colombia. You can also take a boat tour of the beautiful lake that provides a spectacular backdrop for the views.
Cartagena, Colombia is one of the most popular coastal cities to visit in Colombia and it’s not hard to see why. Right on Colombia's Caribbean coast, the colonial city oozes charm. Although not the best place to go for a beach trip, it is a fantastic place to go to wander the old town and enjoy some fantastic architecture.
See friendly sloths at Centenario Park, hang out in one of the many squares in old town, and explore by foot to find beautiful doorways and hidden street art.
Established in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia, Cartagena de India was one of the most important trading ports in the Spanish Empire. The old town is full of crumbling colorful stucco buildings, fascinating museums, and cobblestone streets that just beg to be explored. For a great view, head to the rooftop of the Movich Hotel. This is actually where my husband and I got married, so I might be a bit biased, but I think they have the best view of the city.
The mix of three different cultures (Spanish, African, and Native) make for a great food scene. The UNESCO walled city is famous for its Palenqueras, ladies dressed in vibrant costumes that sell baskets of tropical fruit.
There is a beach in Cartagena outside of the old town but it's really not that great. If you're really keen for a beach trip, there are some islands you can go as a day trip. Just a 45-minute boat ride away are the Santa Rosario Islands. Part of the Rosario and San Bernardo Corals National Natural Park, the islands are a great place to experience nature and go scuba diving. Stay overnight in one of the eco hotels to get a true Caribbean island experience.
Avoid visiting Baru, an island in the area, it's more of a tourist trap in the area and doesn't do justice to what you can really enjoy on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Recently we've heard a lot of reports of people being incredibly overcharged for basic food and services.
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Tayrona National Park
Speaking of beach, Tayrona National Park has some of the best in Colombia. Cabo San Juan del Guia is one of the Country's most famous, but there are plenty of others to explore too like the pristine La Piscina. This national park is right outside of Santa Marta, further east down the coast from Cartagena.
This part of the country is home to a vast diversity of ecosystems, including swamps, mangroves, and forests. It's a great place to see wildlife, many come here for birdwatching to see the rare Andean Condor.
For more active adventures hike El Zaino or the Calabazo trail. The latter is a zig-zag slog up and down mountains, but both result in a beautiful spot on the beach as a reward.
The Cocora Valley and Salento
Salento and the Cocora Valley are the coffee region of Colombia. Expect sweeping lush green valleys with incredibly tall and skinny palm trees dotting the landscape. Coffee plantations are the main industry here and it's a great place to see how the good stuff is made.
One of the best places to visit in Colombia, Valle de Cocora has some of the most scenic trails in all of South America. There are so many outdoor activities to choose from and it's also a beautiful spot to go horseback riding. The wax palm-clad Los Nevados are also worth exploring while in the area.
Stay in the small town of Salento in the middle of the coffee triangle, see colourfully painted facades, and of course, some of the best coffee shops around. Colombia in general is known as a coffee giant worldwide but the coffee plantations in Salento produce some of the best beans in the country. Salento is also famous for trout, you will find it on nearly every menu of every restaurant in Salento.
While you’re here try the national sport: tejo. Tejo is a game that involves metal disks and explosions! You can think of it like corn hole, but with a more dangerous (and fun!) twist.
On any trip to Colombia you can’t forget to mention Colombia's capital city. Most visitors will simply fly in and out of Bogota but it really is one of the best places to visit in Colombia, especially for those travelers who thrive in large cities.
Take a cable car to the top of Cerro de Monserrate, see the sights in La Candelaria, and explore the gold museum to find Incan treasures. For food try one of the oldest restaurants in Bogota, La Puerta Falsa Restaurant, serving up traditional Colombian food that hasn’t changed in decades. For something super unique, try ordering a tamale and hot chocolate with cheese. Trust me, it's more delicious than it sounds!
Don’t miss Paloquemao Market, famous for fresh fruit, vegetables, and an astounding assortment of flowers, it’s one of the best places to visit in Bogota.
A good place to visit a few hours north of Bogota is Villa de Leyva. A colonial town known for its whitewashed buildings, cobblestone streets, and vast Plaza Mayor. Further north, you will also find San Gil, known as the center for adventure sports. Both of these places make for great day trips.
I wouldn't recommend that you need much more than a few hours to enjoy picturesque Villa de Leyva, but I would say you should stay a night or two in San Gil if you plan to take advantage of the outdoor activities.
South of Bogota, Caño Cristales is a place many never visit due to its remoteness. Known as “The Liquid Rainbow” it glistens with yellows, greens, reds, and even shades of black. Go between the months of June and November to see this natural phenomenon in all its glory.
You can also visit Serranía de Chiribiquete, Colombia's largest national park with dense rainforests, mountains, and ancient cave paintings. It's well off the beaten path, and is a must-visit destination if you have the time and energy to make the trip.
Founded in 1525, Santa Marta is the oldest South American town founded by the Spanish. It's best known as a base to get to Minca, Tayrona Park, and La Ciudad Perdida, and is the second most important colonial city in Colombia, after Cartagena.
Do a tour to uncover the history of the town, Républica Hostel has some great tips and feels like a home away from home. Also worth a visit is Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino. Now a museum and botanical garden, it was built in 1608 as revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar's final home.
During the day, relax on Playa Blanca or Taganga, and by night join the locals in a drink at one of the many sunset bars. Santa Marta is known for its party vibe so come ready to dance, socialize, and have some fun!
La Guajira near Santa Marta is one of the best places to visit to experience a different side of Colombia. Known for vast deserts and sand dunes, La Guajira is nothing like the green, lush interior of the rest of the country. Go all the way to the northernmost point of South America to Punta Gallinas to see nature hardly found anywhere else.
Deep in the Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta lies Colombia's best-kept secret and the best place to visit for adventurers. It's like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, and the way there is no less adventurous.
The Lost City, as it translates in English, is an ancient archaeological site built by the Tayrona people in around 800 AD. It takes around four days of hot, sweaty trekking through the jungle to uncover the ruins. Its remote location explains how it lay undiscovered until around 50 years ago when looters stumbled across it.
You will need a guide and a permit as it goes through private indigenous lands. Be sure to choose an indigenous guide so the money you spend on the tour is going back into the rightful hands.
San Andres Island & Providencia Island
Closer to Nicaragua than Colombia, Isla de San Andres and Isla de la Providencia are everything you look for in Caribbean Islands. White sand beaches, sunny skies, friendly people, and fresh food are the staples you can expect when visiting either of these islands. San Andres is more well-known and visited, while Providencia is harder to get to and therefore more remote.
You could easily spend weeks here sipping cocktails, sunbathing on the beach, and staring out into the vast array of blues. It's also one of Colombia's best places to visit for scuba diving.
Although after you look these places up on a map, you'll be left wondering how in the world these islands belong to Colombia, they're the ideal place to perfect that chilled beach vibe after a busy trip exploring the best places to visit in Colombia.
The main draw of a visit here is the Parque Arqueológico De San Agustin. A UNESCO World Heritage Site of pre-Columbian history featuring anthropomorphic monolith carvings.
These volcanic stone guardians stand by burial mounds and chieftain tombs. Believed to be from around the 8th century, this is one of the most important historical sites in Colombia and attracts visitors from around the world.
It's possible to visit the farming village of San Agustin as a day trip from Popayan. Also known as La Ciudad Blanca (‘the white city’), Popayan is a great place to spend a night or two on the way to Cali.
Cali doesn’t top many lists of the best places to visit in Colombia, but it should. This city is great for parties and dancing. Seriously, some of the best dancers in all of South America can be found in everyday clubs in Cali. It's known as the world's best place to go salsa dancing
Polish up your skills and try to keep up with the locals at local haunts around the city such as Tin Tin Deo, helped along with copious amounts of aguardiente (the national alcoholic beverage). Or, if you have two left feet like I do, watch in amazement as locals twist their hips and stick to the beat.
A few other great things to do in Cali include visiting the Spanish churches in the colonial center, admiring the splendor of La Ermita, and seeking heights at Cerro de las Tres Cruces for panoramic views over the town.
If you're able to speak Spanish or are learning along the way, be prepared for an extreme accent while in Cali. Because of this, it's not the best place in the country to enroll in a language school. I'd stick to Bogota for that as they have the most neutral accent in the country.
Ipiales is a small town in the Andes, near the border with Ecuador. If you're traveling to or from Ecuador on the way to Colombia, you should make a stop here. At an altitude of around 2900 meters (9500 ft.), it's one of the highest cities in the world.
The main highlight of Ipiales is visiting Las Lajas Sanctuary. Outside of visiting this church, there isn't much to do in the area but once you get a view of it, you'll be happy you made the stop. The site first became a shrine in the 1700s because a woman and her daughter saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary when seeking shelter in the cave during a storm. From that day on, the area became a famous pilgrimage site for Catholics, and now thanks to the beauty of the church, a focal place to visit in Colombia.
While Tatacoa Desert isn't nearly as large as the deserts in the Southwest United States or those of the Middle East, it's no less beautiful and easily one of the best places to visit in Colombia. If you're a fan of surreal landscapes, arid climates, and eye-pleasing red rocks, you'll love a visit to Tatacoa.
Well off the beaten path, you'll have to put some extra effort into visiting this area but it's more than worth it once you're in the area. Enjoy hiking, taking pictures, and exploring the landscape. There are even a few places to go swimming if you need to beat the heat.
Is Colombia a good tourist destination? Of course! The beaches are some of the best in the world, adventures can be had at every turn, and the cities in Colombia are alive with culture and color.
Not to mention the warm and welcoming locals. Pro tip: to really be welcomed into Colombia, learn a few basic Spanish words or phrases and try to better your language while traveling. Colombians are naturally curious and will love getting to know you. Most locals though don't speak English outside of the tourist zones.
With so many amazing places to visit in Colombia, these area just a few of the top ones. Be sure you either plan enough time in Colombia to see them all at a leisurely pace by renting a car and taking yourself on an incredible road trip or only pick a few to visit. Colombia is far bigger than you might think and traveling from Point A to Point B can be slow unless you opt to fly.
Which of these best places to visit in Colombia will you visit first?
Hero Photo by Enrique Hoyos from Pexels.
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