Colombia is the country that has everything you could need from a South America holiday. Diverse people and landscapes make this a country rich in wildlife, landscapes and culture.
Hikers can choose to trek to glaciers on snow-capped peaks, or through steamy forest to hidden ruins, or to unique Paramó plains.
Cyclists can pedal over and around the Andean peaks that dominate, and adventure seekers can try anything from paragliding to canyoning
Beach lovers can enjoy surfing and relaxing with a Colombian twist, or head to islands for a more Caribbean twist. Prefer wildlife? Try the pacific coast and its whales and turtles, or perhaps the Amazon and its calls of the wild.
The cities are cosmopolitan and cultured, replete with incredible museums with enormous collections.
Below, and in no special order, we outline some of the top places to go and things to do in Colombia.
Bogotá and nearby
La Candelaria is the main attraction for most, with its colourful winding streets, coffee shops and artisanal stores. The Gold Museum (Muséo de Oro) houses one of the world’s most important and impressive collections of pre-Colombia work – a must-see among the many excellent museums here.
Bogotá’s culinary reputation is growing, too, as international cuisine and local chefs combine the spectacular varieties of fruits and vegetables Colombia offers.
Culturally you will find good live music, excellent exhibitions and very hospitable people. Try the street fruits and juices as well.
Close by to Bogotá is The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá, an underground Roman Catholic church built within the tunnels of a salt mine 200 metres (220 yd.) underground.
Some three hours away from Bogotá is Villa de Leyva. The cobbled Plaza Mayor is the largest plaza in Colombia at 14,000 square metres.
Parque Nacional de Tayrona and the Caribbean Coast
La Cuidad Perdida, ‘The Lost City’, is one of Colombia’s most famous sites and challenging treks.
Palomino is fast becoming the place to stay on the coast. There are a number of accommodation choices overlooking the sea. Weary travellers are known to rest up here for days that turn into weeks, as good weather and chilled-out vibe are hard to break away from.
The main town is Santa Marta, which lilts to the sound of musicians and singers entertaining people drinking on café terraces, as the languid evenings lull you to enjoy Santa Marta’s plazas and streets.
Within Parque Nacional de Tayrona, a sweaty hike up to ‘El Pueblito’, an indigenous village still inhabited on occasion, is the highlight for many. There are some lovely beaches to stay at and visit, the best being La Piscinita and Cabo de San Juan.
Cartagena de las Indias
City of Cartagena
Writers, painters and now travellers flock to Cartagena, a wonderful colonial port and symbolic of Colombia’s upturn in fortunes.
Cartagena’s city wall wraps itself around historic churches, plazas and narrow streets. Fruit sellers, dancers, musicians and more all give the city a vibrancy that is reflected in the colourful and famous literature of the area.
The old ways runs alongside the modern as the very best in 5* hotels and top-end restaurants sit on streets whose taxis are horse-drawn carriages. A trip to the dominating castle San Felipe de Barajas is well worthwhile.
Getsemani, a former no-go area outside the city walls, has a more ‘barrio’ (neighbourhood) feel and is a great place to wander at night time, looking for a lovely bar in which to have a drink and look at its street art.
For those wanting a sense explosion, visit Bazurto market (take a taxi). Chaotic, enormous, frenetic and often smelly – this is the place for real travellers to see the underbelly of Cartagena, away from its glistening lights.
San Andres and Providencia
Located some 500 miles/800km from the Colombia coast, these two islands are more Caribbean than Colombian and have their own cultures and feel.
Providencia is the more remote and smaller of the islands, but more than makes up with fantastic snorkelling by perfect reefs in turquoise seas, laid back people and beautiful beaches and some good diving.
You can hike to a stunning viewpoint, a full circuit of Providencia by bike lasts only an hour, but there are relaxing bars, fresh fish to eat and the sounds of the waves waiting around each corner.
San Andres is the busier of the islands because Colombians fly in regularly to take advantage of its duty free status. Head south away from the main town, also called San Andrés, and you’ll find more relaxing places.
You have to fly to San Andres, and from here take either a 3-hour, and often bouncy, catamaran to Providencia, or take a 20-minute flight.
Los Nevados peaks rise from the fertile Cocora coffee region into a range of great bio-diversity.
The unique Paramó grounds await those that climb through cloud forests that are replete with the sounds of a myriad of humming birds.
The Paramó and its frailejónes are as delicate as they are special and only the privileged few get to see them. Push further on and you may glimpse the snow-capped, active and dramatic Nevado del Ruiz volcano.
We have a variety of routes that pass by ancient tombs of the indigenous folk who lived here before the farmers arrived. You combine camping with stays at remote ‘fincas’ where the people who work the land still cling onto their way of life.
The Lost City
The amazing trek takes you into the steamy Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve.
Your target is the Lost City, a collection of houses and ceremonial area, built by the Tayrona people between 1600-1650 to house around 2,000 people.
It’s a stunning walk through one of the world’s highest, most ecologically diverse coastal mountain ranges. The highest point is Pico Cristóbal Colón, the highest mountain in Colombia, at 5,790 metres and with permanent snow cover and 42 km / 30 miles from the coast.
Valle de Cocora
Gigantic Wax Palm trees thrust up to 60metres from earth to skyline from Cocora, one of Colombia’s most popular and interesting sites.
This is the main coffee production in the country and also features great food, a lovely climate and some fantastic trekking and cycling.
Visit a coffee plantation, trek Los Nevados, enjoy the cloud forest and some incredible lodging in Cocora, an open green valley that gives way to spectacular and dominant Andean mountains.
Glacier in El Cocuy
El Cocuy National Park
El Cocuy National Park is a trekker’s ideal. Sweeping valleys, dramatic ice-capped peaks and basic but cosy refugios mean 3-8 days’ of top trekking are possible.
You can choose to hike one, two of three parts of the basic W shape of treks available in this 3,000m2 park, which features more than 15 peaks over 5,000m+/16,400ft+.
This means that the walks are high, starting at 3,800m+ and sleeping at that height, which also makes them a great challenge to relish.
You can reach the glacier on the dramatic El Pulpito (4,800m) and look down into a sacred indigenous Uwa burial site from the Cusiri pass (4,400m).
The views from the northern Lagunas Grandes de los Verdes over to the many snow-capped peaks that surround the Ritacaba peak are incredible.
Start or end your trek from either sleepy El Cocuy, or Guican, which has more facilities and some relaxing thermals springs to soak in.
Big, bustling and shaking off its Pablo Escobar past, Medellín is becoming the city to visit in Colombia.
Botero is one of Colombia’s most famous artists. A visit to Plazoleta de las Esculturas to see 20 of his large bronze sculptures is essential, as is a look around the Museo d’Antioquia, showcasing his paintings and also fantastic Colombian modern art.
A good quality metro system makes Medellín very easy to move around. Public transport and telefericos can take you quickly up into the mountains for gorgeous views.
Medellín is also famed for its nightlife and El Poblado provides options for all tastes, or perhaps catch a free concert in Parque de los Deseos.
The hills around San Augustin are verdant and full of coffee plantations, sugar cane and fruit trees.
The smell of sugar cane production weighs on the crisp air in this heavily farmed region.
It’s a great area for day hikes (or go by horse, or car) that lead you from one archaeological wonder to another: El Purutal, La Tablón and La Chaquira.
The parks Parque Arqueológico, Alto de los Idolos and Alto de la Guacas showcase giant ancient sculptures up to seven metres tall, some very humanlike, others rather monstrous.
Salto Mortiño waterfalls offer a beautiful viewpoint over the remarkable topography of this little-visited but worthwhile area of Colombia.
San Gil and Baricharra
Two towns close together and yet offering diametrically opposite experiences.
San Gil is the Colombia’s adventure sport capital. Choose to raft the excellent Rio Suarez (grades 2-4+), climb rappel, kayak bungee – you name it, you can find it.
The nearby Baricharra is one of Colombia’s best-kept colonial towns. Perched atop a hill overlooking the river Suaréz, it has barely changed in centuries. People wander lackadaisically, sometimes eating the local delicacy of ants, mostly just passing the time.
There are lovely sunsets to enjoy and a 2-3 hour walk through villages on an old Inca path, called the Camino Real, down to the even sleepier village of Guane.
Flowers in the Amazon
Covering almost a third of Colombia’s entire landmass, the Amazon is host to few people but a myriad of animals and plants.
You can wildlife watch on river trips, keeping an eye out for pink river dolphins, caiman, birds and reptiles.
The mystical and vast Lake Tarapoto, home to pink river dolphins, black caiman, anaconda and various other water-borne creatures makes for a fun excursion for a day, where fishing can be great fun and jaunts into the flooded Varzea forest ecosystem are possible.
Our tours aim to give a real cultural interaction with the indigenous community, with handicraft workshops, myths and legends, local rituals and dances, food preparation and more.
You can trek into the Amazon by day and by night, and we also head into Amacayacu National park, replete with primates.
“Whilst Amazon region of Colombia isn’t normally considered when travellers think about visiting the Amazon, Colombia’s vast Amazonian territory has some amazing and special experiences that can’t be found anywhere else.
Puerto Nariño is a small town located 80km up river from the frontier town of Leticia. Puerto Nariño is a car-less and quiet town that provides a perfect spot to explore for a few days.
Beautifully decorated balconies
Spectacular and rarely visited, the pacific coast offers excellent whale watching as well as walks and wildlife in the dense tropical rainforest that grows from the coastline.
The calm warm waters are replete with whales and newly born calves from June to October, and are home to turtles and an abundance of fish.
Plenty of migratory birds make this their home, too, and the forests are full of monkeys, sloths and more.
Try an eco-lodge stay at Nuqui.
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First of all I’d like to say thank you for organising this amazing trip for us, the whole holiday surpassed my expectations.
The trip to Bolivia was a highlight, the organisation and the landscape, enhanced by our Bolivian guide Roger, and our driver Abel. Hotel Tayka del Desierto was a great experience - the starry night!
We were really impressed with all your local partner companies, when you start looking you can see there are so many out there, and wouldn’t know where to start if doing it yourself, it felt like using Andean Trails we got a guarantee of quality.
Our experience of Andean Trails has been excellent, from the work you did and the kindness and reassurance you showed me when I got stressed. When you went away Tom was very prompt and knowledgeable when answering my queries.
Also, who knew we would end up using the Emergency contacts, WhatsApp was invaluable, and Kathy was the BEST.
A Harrison, UK, Oct 2019
The highlight of our holiday was the amazing trek and being in such a remote location surrounded by the most majestic, beautiful mountains. It was absolutely awesome.
Accommodation: It was great in Lima and comfortable in Huaraz with a fantastic rooftop breakfast!
Food: The food on the trek was excellent - we are vegetarian and the cook (Estaban) provided us with delicious, creative and beautiful food throughout and plenty of it. He was like a magician, conjuring up the loveliest food whilst camping in a remote setting.
Guide: Our trek guide (Yunmer) was great. He was extremely informative, had a great sense of humour and was really enthusiastic. He helped carry Jane's water and bag at times - not that we asked him to. He insisted! I have recently had my collarbone plated and he was keen to relieve me of the burden of carrying anything to heavy.
Trek staff: Our donkey / horse driver (Gusman) was brilliant, hard working and quietly helped around camp, setting up, taking down and moving us from one home to the next. The trekking team as a whole were exceptional, really supportive and kind and worked really well together.
Overall organisation was excellent. We felt we were in good hands and looked after well both before and after the trek.
Acclimatising: Acclimatisation walk around Huaraz with Rodolfo was a perfect start to the holiday. Rodolfo is extremely reliable, efficient, well informed and a lovely person. It was great to gain a little insight into the people and culture of the region.
The acclimatisation walk to Laguna Churup with David was another fantastic day. David has been living in the mountains for many years and shared some of his experience and knowledge with us as we surveyed the landscape of peaks, glaciers and lakes.
Benefitting local communities: The local people benefit from the presence of tourists as we provide them an income. Visiting tourists encourages everyone to look after and help maintain this pristine environment- those in the remote communities and also our own trekking team. Visiting tourists also need to respect this. The local people were very grateful that we visited them and also very grateful to Andean trails for their support. They encouraged us to return or send other friends and family. We had some great interactions with our little team and a lot of fun. Sharing our time with these lovely, charming people was very special and we felt that they benefitted as well as us.
Overall: We would strongly recommend anyone who loves nature, being outside and has a sense of adventure to do it.
It is a very special, magical place. Having seen people undertaking the trek unsupported, we felt that having a supported trek was perfect for us as we could really enjoy just being there.
Jane & Greg Windsor, Aus, Sep 2019
» Cordillera Huayhuash Trek, Circuit Walk
South America Travel Special - mailchi.mp/cad4bbf7fc36/south-…
1st November, 2019 3:14 pm
Patagonia National Park in the Chilean region of Aysen was formed in 2018 and is the combination of the Lago Jeinimeni National Reserve, Lago Cochrane/Tamango Reserve and the Parque Patagonia also known as Patagonia Park in the Chacabuco Valley. The new National Park covers an area of over 300,000 hectares. Doug and Kris Tompkins Conservationists Douglas Tompkins, the founder of The North Face and Esprit, and Kristine Tompkins first visited the Chacabuco Valley in 1995. They were captivated by a valley which they saw could become the heart of a world-class, wildlife focused national park. This would be the …
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