What comes to mind when you think of South America as a travel destination? Machu Picchu, the Galapagos Islands, Rio's Carnival, or the Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia? It's time that Colombia draws your attention as well.
Colombia has Caribbean beaches in the north near the historical cities of Cartagena de Indias and Santa Marta. In the west, a large part of the remote coastal area along the Pacific Ocean is accessible only by air or ship. In the central highlands are Colombia's most important cities: Bogota, Medellin, and Cali. In this highland region there is a full range of landscapes, from tropical forests to snow-capped peaks. And the Colombians themselves have an incredible passion for life, with the ability to dance their way right into your heart.
For good reason, this enchanted fort town is at the top of most Colombian bucket lists. Its Old Quarter is reminiscent of a storybook, with flowers adorning wooden balconies against a backdrop of brightly painted brickwork. Take a stroll along the city walls in the evening to see why Cartagena is considered Colombia's most romantic city. Watch the sunset while sipping a cocktail in the old town at one of the rooftop bars with a seaside view.
Then, leave the tourist crowds behind as night falls and walk to the artsy Getsemani area and Plaza de la Trinidad. Locals congregate in this square on warm evenings to socialize and listen to live music. Children run around playing while dignified older adults sit patiently watching.
Be sure to try the tropical drink "Lulo," made fresh from an acid and sour fruit produced in the Andean countries. Lulo is also known as naranjilla, coconilla, mountain grape, obando, or nuquí. It’s an excellent citrus juice to quench your thirst.
The Tayrona National Park is a hidden gem for travelers. The park is situated on the eastern Caribbean coast of Colombia, not far from the city of Santa Marta. There, one can ride a horse along the park’s picture-perfect beaches, the greatest of which is Cabo San Juan.
Local guides are also available to organize a forest hike, which offers stunning views and even the opportunity to enjoy a swim at one of the uninhabited nearby beaches. Then ascend one of the cliffs and take in the terrific views over the sea and the nearby beaches.
Keep an eye out for crocodiles and iguanas during the hike. The Tayrona National Park is considered one of the world's "most precious natural reserves," with the largest concentration of endangered animal species.
Inland and next to the Tayrona National Park is the Sierra Nevada, where you’ll find the highest peak in Colombia, the Pico Simon Bolivar, at 5775 meters (18,947 ft) high.
The Sierra Nevada offers breathtaking views because the mountains are very close to the sea. There are spots where you can see both the Caribbean Sea in one direction and snow-capped mountains in the other.
The "Ciudad Perdida" is part of Sierra Nevada. A visit to this fascinating archeological site requires a 4-day guided hike through the Sierra Nevada, which is home to about 30,000 indigenous people, far away from civilization. At the end of the trek, and after ascending 1200 stone steps, visitors finally reach the Ciudad Perdida archeological site itself, which is older than Machu Picchu by about 650 years.
Inland from Santa Marta, inside the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, is the small hippy town of Minca, which you can use as a base for many adventure activities such as mountain biking and jungle tours. If you prefer relaxing in a laid-back village, it’s the perfect place to cozy up in a hammock with a book and a mug of coffee.
Medellín was once famed for being one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Today, a lot has changed since the dark days of the 1990s, and Medellín has become a hugely popular tourist destination.
Medellín is located in a valley surrounded by the Andes, with stunning views from virtually anywhere in the city. The city is also home to some lovely parks and gardens, including the Botanical Gardens and hiking trails in Parque Arvi. Iguanas, Scarlet Macaws, and even wild monkeys can be spotted within the city.
The province of Antioquia is one of the most beautiful in Colombia, home to unique nature settings, lovely little towns, and coffee farms. Within an hour or two drive of the city, you'll discover charming villages and gain a wonderful sense of how diverse Colombia really is. Beautiful villages like Guatape, Santa Fe de Antioquia, Jardin, and Tamesis can all be visited on day trips or long weekends from Medellín, making the city an excellent place from which to explore rural areas of Colombia.
The friendly inhabitants of Medellín and the province of Antioquia are affectionately called "Paisas," and the people of Medellín seem genuinely delighted to see you there.
Salento is just a few kilometers away from Pereira, one of the major cities in the Coffee Triangle. This pretty little village in the Cocora Valley retains an authentic Colombian feel. Fincas (small coffee farms) dot the rolling green landscape, allowing you to get hands-on experience with the ins and outs of coffee farming.
From picking beans to grinding them, learn more about your favorite morning beverage in the midst of gorgeous countryside. When not sipping on a caffeinated brew, you can take a tour by jeep, seek out a waterfall, or hike through the Cocora Valley, home to the tallest palm trees in the world.
Join our "Coffee & Rum by Rail in Colombia and Panama" tour and visit some of the most emblematic places in Colombia and Panama.