From lively cities to diverse landscapes, Colombia has so much to offer for its travelers.
In recent years Colombia has become a huge attraction for international visitors. Some come to roam around its colorful colonial towns, some for the incredible hiking in the Andes Mountain range and some to learn more about Colombia’s rich history and culture.
Colombia has a little bit of everything to offer for its visitors and in our guide, we cover 15 things not to miss while traveling through this beautiful country.
1. Stroll Around The Walled City In Cartagena
Situated along the Caribbean coastline, Cartagena is a lively port town and one of the best tourist destinations in all of Colombia. Cartagena’s colorful colonial downtown mixed with warm, tropical weather makes it a much-desired vacation spot for locals and international tourists alike.
Cartagena’s Old Town, also known as the Walled City, is the best place to experience the essence of Cartagena’s history and culture. From neon-colored buildings to ruins remaining from defense walls surrounding Cartagena, its charm is undeniable. This is the neighborhood where you’ll find ladies dressed in colorful traditional outfits, street vendors yelling fruit names you’ve never heard of, endless historical landmarks and top-notch restaurants.
2. Take A Mud Bath At Totumo Volcano
Totumo volcano is a cone-shaped volcano but instead of spewing hot lava at the top the volcano is full of mud. The locals have turned Totumo volcano into a major attraction offering mud baths in the middle of it. But this may be the only “bath” where you will be dirtier getting out than getting in.
Taking a mud bath in the middle of a volcano was one of the coolest experiences we did in Colombia because the mud is gravity-defying letting swimmers float on top, similar to the Dead Sea. The mud itself is so thick that it prevents you from moving around quickly so you can be suspended on top without moving a single muscle. It’s a strange feeling and one-of-a-kind place, totally worth the hour drive from Cartagena to try it out.
The cost to take a mud bath at Totumo Volcano is 10,000 pesos (around $3 USD) plus 10,000 pesos for a shower to wash out all that mud from places you never knew it could get in.
3. View Mars Like Landscape At Tatacoa Desert
For most people, you either love the desert or you try to avoid the scorching heat, relentless bugs and sleepless nights as much as you can. But if there is one thing to agree on, the beauty of the Tatacoa desert landscape is like no other.
Mirador De Los Colorados is one of the best places at Tatacoa desert to take in its Mars-like landscape consisting of red hills as far as the eye can see. The Los Colorados viewpoint leads to a 2-hour hike weaving through bare red hills and canyons but if you choose to do the hike, make sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen to battle the unforgiving desert heat.
After the hike cool off at the Los Hoyos swimming pool nestled between grey desert hills, a different but equally beautiful landscape on the other end of the Tatacoa desert. Entrance to Los Hoyos costs 8000 pesos (less than $3 USD) and includes access to 3 pools and cold showers that will bring pleasant relief from the heat.
4. Relax At Santa Rosa Hot Springs
For those who enjoy soaking at outdoor hot springs, the Santa Rosa Springs is a must! Surrounded by lush waterfalls and jungle setting, the Santa Rosa Hot Springs is a Colombian oasis.
Most of the pools at Santa Rosa Hot Springs are manmade but the property is beautifully built and well taken care of. To beat the crowds try to go super early but if you’re looking for a fun environment go at night when the locals come here to socialize and party.
The entrance to the Santa Rosa Hot Springs costs 25,000 pesos (around $8 USD) for access to bathe in multiple pools varying by different heat temperatures.
5. Take An Air Tram To Santuario De Las Lajas Church
The origin of Santuario De Las Lajas church goes back to 1750s when a mother and child took a refuge from a rainstorm in a cave and witnessed an image of Virgin Mary on a stone. This stone was marked as sacred and soon after a small church was built around it for worship. Over the years the church was expanded multiple times to accommodate all of its visitors leading to the church that stands at the present – the Santuario De Las Lajas.
Visitors of Santuario De Las Lajas can park in a few designated parking lots next to it but we opted to arrive in a more adventurous way – through an air tram. For 16,000 pesos ($5 USD) visitors can take an air tram to and from the church passing farmlands, mountains, and rivers along the way.
The entrance to the church itself is free with an optional museum for 3000 pesos ($1 USD) to see religious relics and pottery from indigenous groups that used to live in this area. If you choose to stay past sunset, the church gets lit up in different colors, quite the spectacle to witness!
6. Roam The Colorful Streets Of Guatape
Located just two hours away from Medellin, with frequent buses shuttling visitors to and from, Guatape is the perfect little town for a quick escape. Although downtown Guatape itself is quite small consisting of less than 10 street blocks, this little town is packed with vibrancy and color.
Most of Guatape’s streets and buildings are painted in different colors ranging from pinks to yellows, greens and blues. The main attraction of the city is a plaza with wide colorful stairs. Around this plaza is where you will find cozy little cafes and street vendors selling souvenirs and handcrafts.
The pace of life in Guatape is slow compared to the busy city life in Medellin, which adds to the many reasons why both locals and international tourists love escaping here for the weekend. Visitors can be found lazily roaming its colorful streets or sitting at a café people watching. For more adventurous kind, the town also offers awesome outdoors activities like kayak rentals, hiking, and zip lining.
7. Conquer The Towering Penol Rock
Situated on the outskirts of Guatape stands the towering Penol rock. If you’re looking for a moderate hike offering fantastic panoramic views, this is the place to go. Although the hike can be a bit of a challenge with 650 stairs built into the mountain, there are plenty of areas to rest along the way. After climbing this enormous rock at the top you will be greeted with rewarding views overlooking the surrounding landscapes, mountains, and river peninsulas.
If you’re up for the challenge, the entrance to hike the Penol Rock costs 18,000 pesos ($6 USD). At the top vendors sell little snacks, ice cream, and beer because it wouldn’t quite feel like a vacation without a little indulgence after all.
8. Hike To A Glacier In El Cocuy
Sierra Nevada Del Cocuy is one of the best places in Colombia for breathtaking outdoors activities. It is also one of the last places in Colombia where visitors can witness glaciers, snow and go on incredible treks in the high alpine mountains.
The park currently has three open hikes, each ranging around 12 miles in length offering views of diverse landscapes and gorgeous blue glacier lakes.
The park has a few requirements that need to be arranged before heading out on the hikes. To read through all you need to know to hike this region, check out our
9. Enjoy The Quaint Town Of Salento
Salento, a small Colombian town surrounded by rolling green hills, is one of the main coffee regions of Colombia. For around 10,000 pesos ($3 USD) visitors can tour a local coffee plantation, learn more about the coffee harvesting process and even try a cup of Tinto (local black coffee).
After the coffee tour stroll the colorful streets of Salento, hike up to the viewpoint overlooking the city or play a round of Tejo – a local Colombian game where the objective is to throw rocks at explosives while drinking beer. Quite fun!
10. Hike Between Giant Palm Trees In Valle De Cocora
The lush Valle De Cocora is a place like no other. Located on the outskirts of Salento the Valle De Cocora is a green valley filled with tall skinny palm trees nestled in between foggy mountains and local farms. These soaring tall palm trees are unique to this area, which makes it a wonderful landmark that should not be missed while traveling through Colombia.
The Cocora Palm Tree valley has a few trails that can be hiked ranging from short 1 hour hikes to more challenging 5 hour long hikes. The entrance to hike the palm tree valley costs 3000 pesos ($1 USD) plus you’ll need to arrange a ride there and back from Salento for 55,000 pesos ($18 USD) each way.
11. Roam Around Natural Formations At Los Estoraques
Los Estoraques Unique Natual Area might be one of the best treasures of Colombia. With incredible natural landscapes and a handful of visitors a day, this park was one of my favorite hidden gems during our travels in Colombia.
The Los Estoraques Park is made of tall natural formations carved by wind and water over the years. The park offers incredible trails that lead to overlooks of steep drop-offs plummeting into dark valleys below. Although I enjoyed how accessible and open the trails were, I wouldn’t be lying that sitting at the edge of these drop-offs made my stomach flutter a bit.
Other trails lead through the ground level offering a different perspective of the canyons and caves below. The entrance to hike these trails cost merely 5000 pesos (less than $2 USD) – a bargain!
12. Visit District 13 In Medellin
Colombia is known for having rough history battling drug wars and enduring internal civil unrests. To get a little glimpse into Colombia’s history and to learn more about it the takes visitors through what used to be one of the toughest neighborhoods in Medellin – Comuna 13.
Comuna 13 neighborhood used to be the slums of Medellin, a place where drugs were sold on street corners and where murders were part of the everyday crime. Now this neighborhood has been turned around into one of Medellin’s favorite neighborhoods, a place where visitors can roam around admiring street art, dance performances, coffee shops and hear stories from locals of perseverance and hope. The free walking tour takes around 3 hours, and as the name indicates, is free, but tips are always encouraged.
13. See Colombia’s Largest Square At Villa De Leyva
Villa De Leyva is one of Colombia’s cutest little sleepy towns with stunning mountains as its backdrop. It’s one of those places where life just seems to slow down, where days are not spent running about seeing landmark after landmark, a place where you find yourself enjoying a lazy brunch or strolling its cobblestone streets.
A bit far away from big cities, Villa De Leyva remains untouched by major tourism which is why we found it so charming. The town of Villa De Leyva centers around its plaza which is the largest square in Colombia. Villa De Leyva has made many efforts to preserve its original colonial style architecture consisting of white colored buildings that add to its small-town charm.
14. Go Paragliding At Cocorna Mirador
For a more adventurous way to take in Colombia’s beautiful landscape, head over to Cocorna Mirador Overlook for an adrenaline packed day of paragliding. For 120,000 pesos ($40) expert guides will fly you over waterfalls and rolling green hills for a birds view of the surrounding areas. Located just an hour outside of Medellin, the Cocorna Mirador also offers restaurants with overlooks of the valley below.
15. Take A Bike Tour In Bogota
As the capital city of Colombia, Bogota is the largest city in Colombia and houses over 10 million people within its metropolitan area. In Bogota, skyscrapers soar across the landscape as far as the eye can see and the streets are packed with people rushing about their day. Bogota can be quite the intimidating city to take on for first-time travelers that are not familiar with its layout and different neighborhoods.
One the best ways to get bearings of the city is through the Bogota Bike Tour that takes visitors through different neighborhoods, markets, coffee roasting companies and end the tour by playing a local game of Tejo. A lot of the tour focuses on artistic and up and coming neighborhoods, not just the historical center, giving a glimpse of the city through a local’s perspective. The Bogota Bike Tour costs 40,000 pesos ($13 USD) and takes around 3-4 hours to do.
Colombia has been one of our favorite countries to visit in Southern America. The friendly locals and rich history captivated us and made it hard to move on, one of the reasons why we loved it so much and spent 3 months exploring the different regions of Colombia.
Are you planning a trip to Colombia? Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below!
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